Splits, spares and strikes: Kulju’s 774 second only to Windahl, nearly breaks 17-year-old area lanes record

Lanes history was made and almost rewritten at the former Country Lanes in Ishpeming two weeks ago.

On Jan. 2, just a day after new owner Clay Sandberg received word that his purchase of the center and a name change to Red Rock Lanes became official, Nicole Kulju nearly broke a 17-year-old record.

Kulju, 24, bowled a three-game series of 774, just five pins less than the area women’s record of 779 rolled by Diana Windahl at the same center in December 1996.

Windahl had what I believed to be the Upper Peninsula women’s record ever since then, too, though that’s gone through some revision after a little research I conducted last week. But more on that later.

Kulju deserves the spotlight right now, with games of 274, 257 and 243 – a 258 average – in the Thursday Ladies League at Country, er, Red Rock. That’s going to take some getting used to.

Kulju is a former Ishpeming High School bowler who graduated from IHS in 2008 and also from Northern Michigan University in December 2012 with a bachelor’s degree as a registered nurse. She works for U.P. Home, Health and Hospice in Ishpeming.

Though in discussing her games we couldn’t come up with an exact number of strikes she threw that night, one thing she was certain about.

“I didn’t have any open frames,” she told me after her fifth time bowling in this league raised her average considerably from an already-lofty 196 up to 208.

We did figure that in the first game, she began with six strikes, spared the 1-2-4 combination, threw four more and finished with a seven-count on the final ball in the 10th frame.

Like the first game, Game 2 was also a 10-strike game, while the final game began strike-spare-strike-strike.

“I honestly didn’t think about it too much,” she said about a run at her own highest series and the area record. “My teammates, Ruth Isola and Lisa Gannon, I just kept talking with them all night.

“After the second game, I knew I didn’t need a very big game for 700, but I just wanted to keep bowling well.”

Kulju believed this was her fourth career 700 series, and my records back that up as she rolled three, all between 703 and 711, in a six-month stretch that ended in April 2010.

“I hadn’t bowled for a year and a half before this season,” she said, explaining she was putting in a lot of hours working toward her NMU degree.

Apparently she’s forgotten any bad habits she might’ve developed, though she’s been an excellent bowler since high school, when in her senior year she won the U.P. girls singles title and made it to the semifinals of the state Division 2 girls singles finals downstate. She also led the Hematites to some of their best team finishes ever.

On Jan. 2, she said she felt good right from the first ball of practice with her 15-pound Lane #1 G-Force Evolution reactive resin ball, one she was given by Country Lanes employee and former IHS bowler Andy Goldsworthy about five years ago.

She did admit to making a few observations on the lanes.

“I moved just a little bit after I watched how some of the ladies were throwing,” she said.

Now, though, it will probably be the other ladies watching how she throws.

Onto a related subject: the U.P. women’s series record. After making about a half-dozen calls last week to bowling centers and association officials in Escanaba, Iron Mountain and Sault Ste. Marie, I found out that while Windahl no longer has the U.P. record, it looks like she did hold onto it for more than a decade from December 1996 to January 2007.

That’s when Pam Rostagno of the Iron Mountain area shot 782 with a 299 game in a league at Norway’s Rialto Lanes, which since then has become Mike’s on Main. That’s according to Sue Champeau of that area’s Tri-Area Bowling Association.

Then more recently, two Soo-area women beat that in leagues at Dondee Lanes, according to lanes personnel there. Lisa Woolley shot 814 and Glory Hines 792 during leagues some time during the 2012-13 season.

Now onto a second straight week of the abbreviated Mining Journal Bowlers of the Week for Dec. 27-Jan. 2, since more than half the leagues were off for the new year:

Big surprise here, as Kulju beat the field by more than a hundred pins, shooting 186 pins over her 196 average with the 774.

For the guys, Gary Carlson of the Monday Northern Electric Automotive Industrial at Red Rock was 150 pins over his book average of 178, shooting 684 on games of 241, 233 and 210. In second was Pete Holman in Red Rock’s Friday Nite Mixed at 113 over his 189 average with 680 and a top game of 266.