Nick Caruana once thought he was a better field hockey player than his older sister, Jessica. Never mind that he didn’t play the sport. And never mind that she was four years his senior and an all-state star for Sachem East — little brother was competitive enough to challenge her to a one-on-one, and bold enough to believe he could win.
He lost, 10-0. But never mind that, either.
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The confidence he showed then has carried over to bowling.
Sachem East has lost a slew of superstars to graduation in recent years and this season was expected to be the early stages of a rebuilding phase. So, naturally, Caruana asked to shift from the leadoff spot to anchor in the lineup. And he entered the season with grand designs on being Suffolk’s top bowler and making a run at the county average record.
Never mind that he’s a freshman.
“I’m very confident in what I can do,” Caruana said. “There’s pressure, but I don’t get nervous and it gives me a challenge. I set a goal for myself and try my hardest to get there.”
One could say he has arrived.
Caruana, with a late-season surge, finished with a 232 average — the best in Suffolk. “To be honest, I wanted it, but I didn’t really think it would happen this year,” said Caruana, who made the varsity as a seventh-grader. “It means a lot to me.”
He rolled into the lead last Tuesday with an 815 series — the county high this season — and led Sachem East to a decisive win over Longwood to clinch the League III title. Caruana edged East Islip’s Mike Kissel (231.2) and Jacob Klein (230.3), and came 1.9 points short of breaking the record set by Smithtown’s Gregg Reed last year.
The Flaming Arrows’ 1,020.5 average was third best, behind East Islip and Middle Country, and with Caruana and Ken Kamping, they will be a contender in next Saturday’s county tournament. Never mind they have only one senior.
“For a freshman to accomplish all that is quite a feat,” coach Mike Stanek said. “I’ve never had a bowler before — and I’ve had some really good ones — who’s been able to do what he’s done this early in their career.”
Confidence is crucial, but swagger without substance is empty bravado.
Caruana’s success comes from his “work ethic,” Stanek said. It helps, too, that he grew up around the sport. His mother, Lauren, and sister bowl competitively, Caruana said, and his father, Toby, has a 245 average.
“[Nick] has a lot of knowledge and adjusts well to conditions," Stanek said. "He plays the lane deep inside and throws it out. Most kids don’t play that deep, so he almost has a lane to himself.”
Caruana wants a lane to himself in the figurative sense, which means maximizing his potential. “There’s definitely going to be a lot of improvement over the next three years,” he said. “I’m only going to get better.”
There’s also this: His sister won a field hockey state title in 2011, and he’ll need one of his own for full bragging rights. “Absolutely,” he said. “I’m still trying to show her who’s boss.”