DuBOIS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Melia Mitskavich grabbed her bowling ball and stared down the lane at the 10 pins — the final obstacles in the way of perfection.
She set her feet, took a deep breath and began her approach.
The DuBois Central Catholic junior watched as the ball rolled and curved into the pocket.
Held her breath as the pins toppled.
A strike — the 12th of 12.
Mitskavich threw her arms in the air, a wide smile creasing her face as the crowd assembled behind her erupted in cheers.
A 300 game — the pinnacle of bowling.
And not her first.
“It was my fourth,” Mitskavich said. “They’ve all come in the last year.”
But this one was a little more special for Mitskavich, who has been bowling since she could barely walk. The sport, after all, is literally the family business — her parents own DuBois Lanes.
This latest dance with perfection came at the 2022 Junior Gold Championships in Grand Rapids, Mich., last week.
The perfect game came in the second round of qualifying and put Mitskavich atop the U18 leaderboard. Only one other bowler in the entire tournament notched a 300 game.
Mitskavich entered the final day of qualifying in first place, but struggled, dropping down to 10th.
She ended up finishing the tournament, made up of hundreds of bowlers from all over the country, the top 12.
“I was pretty satisfied,” Mitskavich said. “Of course I was hoping to maybe do a little better, but it was amazing to finish as high as I did.”
During her first 300 game, Mitskavich’s nervousness and excitement grew with each strike. She had come close before, rolling a 299 last year at Pennsylvania State Tournament.
She left the dreaded five-pin.
“I mean, it’s hard to get that close and leave just one pin,” Mitskavich said. “But then I think, ‘Hey, I threw the first 11 for strikes and that’s pretty good.’ It’s not as bad a feeling as you might think.”
A 300 certainly feels a lot better.
There was no five-pin standing after that final ball in that first perfect game.
Then the 300s started happening with startling frequency. The next came just a week later. The third, two weeks after that.
“Those three were all within a month,” Mitskavich said. “It was kind of crazy.”
But none were crazier than the 300 she rolled in Michigan, where she admitted she really felt the pressure in the final frame.
“I definitely get nervous, especially toward the end of the game in the 10th frame,” she said. “That’s when I take my time and make the best shot that I can make. I felt pretty good that day.”
Mitskavich wants to bowl in college. More and more collegiate programs are popping up across the country, especially women’s bowling teams.
Mitskavich wants to land a spot at one of them.
She has a bowling pedigree going for her. Mitskavich’s mother, Jackie (Sellers) Mitskavich was a member of the Ladies Pro Bowler Tour in the 1990s.
She joined the professional tour when she was just 21 after graduating from Penn State University, where she was the National Collegiate Bowler of the Year twice.
Jackie won three events on the tour in her professional career.
Melia Mitskavich said she has learned the ins and outs of the game from the best — her mother.
“I don’t think I would be in the place I am today without her,” Mitskavich said. “The most valuable lesson she’s taught me is that if you bowl a bad game, just forget about it and go right on to the next game. Basically staying calm, no matter what happens. That’s definitely helped me out a lot.”
Mitskavich has also learned the subtleties of the sport from her mom and from virtually growing up inside a bowling alley.
She knows better than anyone that there is more to the game than just picking up a ball and chucking it toward the pins.
Lane conditions are a huge part of the strategy. Oil patterns differ and a good bowler knows how to read them properly, much like a good golfer can read the slopes and undulations of a green.
At the Junior Gold Nationals, the patterns were different each day and Mitskavich had precious little time to adjust.
“There were four days of qualifying and each day was a different lane pattern,” Mitskavich said. “You didn’t know what it was until you got your 40-minute practice session. Basically, you had to figure it out before you started your competition.”
Mitskavich, who carries a 237 average, doesn’t have a big curve, so she prefers the shorter patters.
“My 300 game was on a shorter pattern,” she said. “I throw straighter down the line.”
That was also her best day of the tournament.
DuBois Central Catholic doesn’t have a bowling team, but Mitskavich participates in plenty of leagues throughout the year at DuBois Lanes.
Mitskavich doesn’t just throw strikes at the bowling alley.
Mitskavich is also a standout softball pitcher at DCC and helped the Cardinals reach the PIAA Class A championship game as a sophomore this spring.
She pitched sparingly during the regular season – only 10 innings – but was called upon to start several postseason games. Mitskavich finished the season 4-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 31⅓ innings pitched. She struck out 30 and walked just four.
“It was awesome,” Mitskavich said. “It definitely surprised me when coach (George Heigel) came up to me the day before our first playoff game and said, ‘I’m going to start you tomorrow.’ I was honestly really surprised, but also really happy to be able to get a chance to help the team more than I had during the regular season. I was just really excited for it.”
DCC lost, however, in the state championship game, 5-1, to Montgomery.
“I’m very excited for next year,” Mitskavich said. “We have fall ball coming up and we’re already starting for next year. We’re in the weight room and I think we’re gonna have another good season.”
Mitskavich thinks bowling helps her pitch.
Both motions are underhand. She also has a strong hand and forearm.
“My coach always tells me that I spin the ball really well,” Mitskavich said. “My curveball and screwball have a lot of movement and I think that’s because of bowling.”
While softball also has a special place in Mitskavich’s heart, bowling will always be No. 1.
She would like nothing more than to be able to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be a professional one day.
“I think that would be awesome,” she said. “I would really love that. I don’t think a lot of people how serious I take bowling.”