At this stage in her life as a bowler, Shannon Small is unlikely to make a huge leap forward in her game. For someone who averaged 223 during her senior year at Plum, the ceiling isn’t far off.
Now it’s more about tuning in and adapting to the rigors of college-level competition. As she enters the winter portion of her second season in Duquesne, she does just that.
After earning Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year last winter, Small finished the fall portion of the Dukes’ 2021-22 schedule fifth in the nation in Baker format makeable reserve percentages (88.1) and 11th in individually makeable reserve conversion rate (86.5).
“I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far,” said Small.
Not that there have been no challenges. In particular, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic made it difficult to get used to being a Division I athlete.
The competition schedule during her freshman season was essentially cut in half due to travel restrictions. Bond time with teammates was disjointed, as they often had to practice in smaller groups and were limited in their off-lane meetings due to regulations regarding dorm rooms. (At least, Small had the advantage of having former Plum teammate Sarah Kirkpatrick on the team.)
“I don’t know what a regular season is like because I started in a covid season,” said Small. “This season has been a lot more normal than last year. Last year there were many restrictions. But I still understood the team aspect of everything, but it was more difficult because of all the limitations. ”
Ready or not, Small got an important role as a freshman. Due to an injury to one of the Dukes’ top bowlers, Small was placed in the No. 4 position in the revamped lineup, where she set the table for the anchor bowler. Think of it in baseball terms as the set-up man for the closer.
“She came ready to go and helped us a lot,” said coach Jody Fetterhoff, who has guided the Dukes since the program started five years ago. “It was a very high pressure situation, and she was really able to do a good job with that.”
Small played her part to perfection, and as last winter rolled around, the Dukes’ schedule stabilized. They finished 35-17 overall (16-5 NEC).
The 2021-22 season was more typical. Duquesne finished the fall 36-19 overall and 4-3 in the NEC. The winter schedule starts on January 23 and builds up to the NEC Championship from March 25-27.
With a larger selection of matches and more regular practice time, Fetterhoff has helped Small with her game.
She and Small have worked a lot on ball speed. Because Small throws a slower ball, Fetterhoff said, she needs to release it further down the course so she can overcome shorter oil cartridges and higher friction surfaces to hit more.
“The most important thing with Shannon in the fall, the (oil) patterns and the surfaces we boasted about weren’t her ‘A’ game,” Fetterhoff said. “So she was asked to do things that weren’t her comfort zone. She is a phenomenal reserve shooter and we actually needed her for her reserve shooters.
“It doesn’t matter what we bowl at, I can count on her to make her spares. And that’s really what you want in your three-, four-hole bowler.”
In addition, Small said she is in the process of adapting to the way lane conditions change over the course of a race. She said she can see improvement and is confident she can continue on that journey.
“All the workouts we do, I’ve gotten a little more consistent,” she said. “I have learned a lot, both in bowling and in competition. There was much to learn. … I now know a lot more about bowling.”
And while the ceiling is in sight, Fetterhoff said Small isn’t there yet.
“She can go as far as she wants,” Fetterhoff said. “She does everything she has to do and… the more experience she gets, the more comfortable she feels, she’s just going to get so much better.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck via email at email@example.com or via Twitter .