WEST HAZLETON — When you see her preparing her approach on a shot, standing at the end of her lane, you see the proverbial girl next door.
Before her first step, though, you catch a glimpse of her talent.
“Alyssa Balicki” is written on the high series board on the wall. “Alyssa Balicki” is on the high game board as well.
Seconds later, the crash of another strike tells you as well.
Balicki is the lone senior on the Hazleton Area bowling team, which has reached the state championships for the first time. The Cougars bowl in Pittsburgh this weekend with the best teams in the state.
“Most of the team is juniors, so we’ve been together for three years,” Balicki said at practice at Bowl Arena. “We’re really united, really close. Even in different grades, we just really bonded. To experience this as a team is awesome.”
The Cougars captain and top scorer, like any competitor, would have liked to qualify in the individual tournament as well. But to have her team there for her final high school competition makes the trip across the state something extra special.
“To go to states as a senior is incredible,” Balicki said. “Sure, I’m a little upset I didn’t make it at singles. But this is going to be so much fun. I’m so happy I made it with the team.
“Just to be able to have one last time together. Leaving high school is going to leave me heartbroken. I’m going to miss these girls.”
Once her high school career is complete, Balicki will continue her juniors bowling until she heads off the college in the fall. Once away at school, bowling will remain a big part of her life.
“Alyssa is going to Long Island,” Cougars coach Shawn Evans said. “They and Delaware State (both top-20 programs) really went after her. I’m proud of her, she’s one of my first players to sign.”
Balicki will bowl for LIU-Brooklyn, currently 16th in the NCAA bowling rankings. She will also study in the athletic training program, where she plans to secure her bachelor’s and a master’s in advance athletic training and sports sciences.
“I had never been to New York City until my college visit,” Balicki said. “At one point, the coach looked at me and asked if I was OK. I told her I was just trying to take it all in.”
The daughter of Margaret and Joseph Balicki of Hazleton grew up on softball and gymnastics, trying out bowling when her mother took a job at Bowl Arena. She joined her first league at 12, and just a few year later, her game is taking her places — like LIU-Brooklyn. It turns out bowling is in the family’s blood, as her brother Justin works at one of Philadelphia’s biggest facilities.
Balicki bowls five days a week, but only because there aren’t more hours in a day.
“If it wasn’t for work, I’d bowl everyday,” she said. “I go as often as I can. If I get time, I’m texting a friend to go bowling.”
Evans and personal coach TJ Trout of Pottsville have combined to help Balicki become the bowler she is now. She understands the technical aspects of the sport, sounding more like a physics professor than a high school student when she talks bowling.
She bowled her first perfect game last summer in a tournament in Limerick and her second came at her home lanes against Governor Mifflin, one of the top teams in the state. There’s a good chance there’s more to come, starting this weekend in Pittsburgh.