By Andrew Johnson

FRUITPORT – Every so often an athlete finds her zone, and delivers an unexpectedly tremendous performance.

That was the case last Saturday, when Fruitport sophomore Jessica Plichta rose up and won the individual championship in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 regional bowling tournament at Northway Lanes.

Plichta finished with a six game total of 1,119, with a high game of 214, just ahead of Omani Morales of Cedar Springs, who totaled 1,105. She beat out 93 other bowlers in the tournament.

It’s not that Plichta is a below-average bowler by any means. She averaged a 156 during the season, was the top bowler on the Fruitport girls team, and earned honorable mention All-Conference honors.

But winning a regional tournament – she was one of only six girls in the state to pull off that feat in Division 2 – was something that nobody expected Plichta to do so early in her varsity career.

Plitcha makes a throw during the GMAA city bowling tournament. Photo/Jason Goorman

“It wouldn’t have been expected it at all,” said Fruitport Coach Mike Weaver about Plichta’s performance. “To me it was a big surprise. I would think she was capable of placing top 10, which is well within her ability. But I think it was a very big surprise.”

While the title was a shock to Weaver, he believes Plichta showed potential to do great things all season.

“She’s been the girls top bowler all year long,” the coach said. “She works hard in practice and is very committed. She’ll ask for suggestions or how she can make herself better. She’s been a strong bowler all year, but to go out and win a regional is surprising, even though she’s a great bowler.”

Plichta said everything came together mentally on Saturday, and she went into the tournament with a strong determination to do well.

“I was definitely in a zone,” said Plichta, 15. “I felt completely focused and determined about winning it. I was making sure to do it for me, and I was focused on doing my best.”

That feeling of being in a “zone” is familiar to Plichta, but up until now, only in the classroom.

“I sort of feel it while taking tests at school,” she said. “I’ve never really had it while bowling, though.”

Plitchta said focusing on herself, and blocking out everyone around her, does not come naturally.

Plichta with Fruitport coaches Mike and Chalie Weaver.

“I always feel a lot of pressure while bowling,” she said. “I put it on myself mainly. I feel like I need to do my best so that I can please everyone around me.

“I’ve always felt like I bowled for my dad or other people. I’ve wanted to do my best for the team, but never really bowled for myself. It felt really good once I did, though.”

While Plichta was thrilled and proud of her regional championship, she said that feeling wasn’t there right after her victory.

“I think I was more in awe than anything,” she said. “I wasn’t really celebrating because it hadn’t gone through my head how big this was. I didn’t give myself enough credit for it.”

Plichta and Alyssa Major of Oakridge were the only bowlers from the area to win individual regional titles in any division. Now those two, along with 17 other local bowlers, will compete in Division 1-4 individual state tournaments around the state this weekend.

The Mona Shores, Ravenna and Oakridge girls teams and Oakridge and Kent City boys squads qualified to compete in the team state finals in their respective classes.

No matter the results on Saturday, Plichta said she will be grateful for the experience and opportunity.

“I think it’s very rewarding,” said Plichta, the granddaughter of Northway Lanes Hall of Famer Vern Plichta. “I feel really grateful to have all these opportunities to bowl. I appreciate my coaches and how supportive they are. More than anything, I really love bowling with all of these other girls.”