By Andrew Johnson

FRUITPORT – Rachel Pierce is a great individual bowler, which she demonstrated during her sophomore and junior seasons.

But high school bowling is first and foremost a team sport, and Pierce loves the team element.

So two years ago, when Fruitport only had three female bowlers and needed five to compete, Pierce took matters into her own hands.

She went out and recruited two friends to the team, so the Trojans could field a full squad and have a chance to win some matches.

“If you really want to compete and win, you need all five spots filled,” said Pierce, who is arguably the top female high school bowler in the area. “So I recruited some friends.

“I forced one friend to bowl on the team by agreeing to play softball. She ended up joining the team and loved it.”

Fruitport bowler Rachel Pierce. Photo/Jason Goorman

Fruitport bowling coach Joe Kolanowski said he had no idea how Pierce recruited the extra bowlers, but said it was an early indication of her leadership abilities.

“She’s a great player,” Kolanowski said. “But she’s also a great student in the classroom and leader on the bowling team. She sets a good example on the lanes, and can be vocal if needed.

“Overall she sets a good example and her teammates are really able to feed off her leadership.”

Pierce has been bowling since the age of five, when she started with her family. Her older brother, Noah Pierce, was a varsity bowler for Fruitport, while her father, Mark Pierce, helps Kolanowski coach the Fruitport team.

“We’re known as a bowling family,” she said.

Last year, as a junior, Pierce averaged a score of 191, won a Division 2 individual. regional championship for the second straight year, and was a third-team Division 2 All-State selection.

She was one of only two area bowlers to earn All-State honors.

“It was super fun,” she said about her 2016-2017 season. “My school was super supportive last year and gave me a lot of recognition.”

A big factor for Pierce last season was her ability to pick up spares. While strikes are great, they don’t always happen. It’s what you do with the cleanup that counts.

Pierce in action during a recent match. Photo/Jason Goorman

“I’m always trying to pick up spares,” Pierce said. “They make or break a game. While strikes are fun, it’s really spares that are key.”

This season she’s off to a great start again, with a sparkling 221 average through two early matches. The Fruitport girls bowling team is 1-1 heading into the bulk of the season beyond the holidays.

“My main goal is to get a 200 average,” Pierce said. “I bowled in a recreation league and averaged a 200 at Northway Lanes. But I’d love to see our team grow together and win some competitions.”

Pierce’s performance so far this season may be a bit of surprise, considering she tore her ACL in the spring playing softball for Fruitport, and had to rehab and be ready to roll by the winter bowling season.

“When I tore it, I didn’t realize it,” she said. “My knee just got worse as the summer went on. I healed it through therapy and heat treatments.

“It wasn’t the sliding leg I use for bowling, but all the walking and sitting down are challenges that come with bowling with an ACL issue.

“But I am one for a challenge. I want to use this to my advantage, and became a better bowler because I overcame the injury.”

Pierce is hopeful that her leadership and bowling skills will transition to the college level. She’s currently being recruited by Alma College and Muskegon Community College.

“It makes me feel good that people want me on their team at the next level,” she said. “But I couldn’t do it without the support of my parents, my grandparents, friends and teammates. It makes it all easier.”