Amanda Naujokas, Sachem’s 14-year-old bowling phenom, throws a 15-pound ball with a finesse beyond her years.
Naujokas, who attends Sachem North but led the combined Sachem girls team with a 215.63 average last winter, is entering her sophomore season as one of the best up-and-coming bowlers not just on Long Island, but in the country.
The proof? Naujokas averaged a 207.42 in the 2017 USBC Junior Gold Championships’ U15 girls division in Cleveland in July, placing first and qualifying for the Junior USA Developmental Team.
“I was speechless,” said Naujokas of her reaction to being handed a Team USA jersey after her victory in Cleveland. “It’s like a dream come true. I’ve been working all year to accomplish this goal.”
“My mom and dad were ecstatic, and so was my brother,” Naujokas added. “My brother and my parents were behind me every shot. It’s like they made the team with me.”
The Olympics doesn’t currently feature bowling, but Naujokas hope is it will include the sport in which he has dominated both local and national competition.
The Junior Developmental Team would act as a stepping stone to Team USA in the future. She’s entitled to attend training at the International Training Research Center in Dallas, which will give her access to the technology and coaching to further improve her game. She’ll also compete in select international tournaments.
“It’s a pretty prestigious honor to be put on this team,” said her father, Lenny Naujokas. “You’re basically representing the United States.”
Part of the challenge of the event in Cleveland was recognizing oil patterns different from the house patterns she’s used to bowling on Long Island. But Sachem coach Diane Groneman said bowlers are taught to recognize patterns, and while it could take individuals an entire game to pick up on the oil, Naujokas said she had it down by her “fifth or sixth frame.”
From there, it was all about doing what she’s naturally able to do. She bested a friend of hers, Mabel Cummings of Illinois, by two pins over 26 games to earn first place.
“She has the potential to be great, she really does,” Groneman said. “She’s going into 10th grade, and each year she’s improved so much.
“She’s a really hard worker. She spends extra time at the lanes trying to figure out oil patterns and things like that. She does a lot extra, as far as going to different tournaments and seeing what else is out there in her age group. She goes the extra mile.”
Whether bowling becomes an Olympic sport or not, the training Naujokas could gain from the team will be invaluable. Of course, she knows what she’d tell the International Olympic Committee if she could pitch the sport’s relevance to the Olympics.
“Bowling takes the same amount of training and confidence that any other sport does, and you need to be talented and dedicated and believe in yourself, just like in every other sport to be successful,” she said.
It’s been her dedication and confidence that’s lifted her this far early in her bowling career. In the words of her high school coach, she’s only just scratched the surface.
Said Groneman: “The sky’s the limit for her.”