When Paul Klempa took over as head coach of the Nebraska bowling program in September, he could never have imagined the way his first season would end.
He imagined it would have an ending.
That wasn’t the case as the NCAA canceled all winter and spring championships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska was one of the top teams heading in to the tournament, which made the news sting even more.
“We were sitting in third in the national RPI and preparing for postseason when everything came to a screeching halt,” Klempa said. “We were all devastated to see the season suddenly end like that.”
While the season didn’t get the finish he wanted, his job as a coach continued. He then focused on the leadership and spoke to his players.
“I asked them to look at the bigger picture. It didn’t get canceled for something that’s not serious,” he said. “This is something that no one in the entire world has had to deal with before. At the end of the day, it’s more important to keep everybody safe than it is to finish our season.”
That mentality helped the players put the lost season in perspective and helped them realize that even though it didn’t end the way they wanted, they still accomplished a lot with a first year coach. Klempa spent 23 years in the Husker bowling program as an assistant under coach Bill Straub, who had been the only coach in program history. Straub led the Huskers to 10 national titles, coached 34 All-Americans and had seven National Bowlers of the Year in his 35 years as coach.
“Having a new coach helped me adapt to change quickly, especially after transferring when it felt like a lot of change all at once,” said junior Leah Glazer, who came to Nebraska after two years at Arkansas State. “I had to learn to be calm in the chaos of change. I wouldn’t have wanted our season to have ended with any other coach and I’m happy to be a part of this group.”
Klempa has embraced the role as head coach, and all the new challenges it brings.
“The biggest change is that the buck stops with you. As an assistant, you make decisions and weigh in on things, but ultimately it’s not your decision and it doesn’t come back to you if you make the wrong choices” he said.
One of these new challenges is figuring out how to prepare for a season with so many unknowns. The schedules across all college sports have been changed drastically, leaving the bowling team to wonder which tournaments will be held.
“It’s been awful, especially since this is my last year of eligibility,” said senior Michelle Gaurro. “Lately, I’ve been trying to be positive like there’s going to be a season and not dwelling on how it’s my last year. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Positive thinking like that is how Klempa has been able to keep team morale up and get them ready for whatever the season will look like.
“I don’t have a lot of control over it, so I’m not letting it make me anxious,” he said.
“This pandemic has shut down the world, not just Nebraska bowling. I can control getting this program on the right track, so no matter how this thing plays out I want us to be ready for it.”