BY REYNA IWAMOTO | Staff Writer
LIU Women’s Bowling Coach Kayla Jones continues to leave a legacy on the bowling lanes, as the first bowler to be inducted into the Kutztown University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the 42nd Annual Class of 2021.
Jones began her collegiate bowling career as Kutztown’s first women’s bowling recruit in 2008. Jones quickly rose to the occasion as a four-year standout, earning the title of Northeast Conference (NEC) Rookie of the Year as a freshman and ending her collegiate career as the 2012 Division II National Player of the Year.
“It is an outstanding honor,” Jones said of being inducted into the hall of fame. “I knew the program was new when I first started there, which was a reason I chose it in the first place. Being able to be a part of many of the firsts for the program throughout my career is a great feeling.”
Jones received the call informing her of her induction from the interim Athletic Director at Kutztown, Michelle Gober, while coaching one of her LIU practices.
“When she told me I was speechless. I teared up a little,” Jones said. “It brought back so many memories at once. And then it was a little relief that all the hard work, late nights, long practices, tournaments, and weekends continue to still pay off.”
Jones began bowling with a children’s bumper league at just five years old, as her mother worked at a local bowling center. “Both of my parents were bowlers, so it was in my blood,” Jones said.
At around the age of eight, Jones began competitive bowling and continued throughout high school. A graduate of Westmont Hilltop, Jones was then recruited as the first signee of the Women’s Bowling program at Kutztown.
“Being able to help create a culture from the ground up was something that seemed the most exciting to me,” Jones said.
As the first recruit to the bowling program, Jones felt confident, but said that this position also added pressure. “I never missed a practice, in fact I typically asked for more,” Jones said. “I was just doing what I could to be the best for my team, and trying to lead by example.”
Jones, named Kutztown’s MVP for all four seasons, would also become a three-time All-American and would lead the Golden Bears to their first ever NCAA Bowling Championship appearance as a junior.
Following her successful collegiate bowling career at Kutztown, Jones began coaching bowling at LIU, although she had not initially planned to coach college bowling.
“Originally I went to school to be a teacher. After a year I changed to an athletic administration degree. Funny enough, coaching is the two combined,” Jones said.
Jones explained that the coaching position at LIU opened up the Fall after her graduation.
“I hadn’t applied to other coaching positions, but took the chance because it seemed like a great opportunity,” Jones said. “I could not imagine my life without bowling to be honest. For as long as I remember it has played a huge part in my life.”
In her first year coaching at LIU, Jones was named NEC Coach of the Year after leading the Blackbirds to a then-program-record of 53 victories and a trip to the NEC Championship.
Now in her ninth season of coaching at the Division I level, Jones said her coaching experience thus far has taught her the value of open communication, meaningful connections, and to trust your gut.
Looking to the future, Jones said that her biggest goal for the LIU Women’s Bowling Team is to qualify for a national championship.
“We have knocked on the door a few times, and have held a consistent number in line, but that championship appearance is what is next for us,” Jones said.
Taking all that she has learned as a former college athlete herself, Jones strives to continue to use her coaching position to encourage her athletes on and off the lanes.
“Personally, I plan to continue to help create empowering independent young females that are able to go into their respected careers with values and experiences that LIU bowling taught them,” Jones said.
The Sharks are scheduled to start conference play February 19th, looking to earn their spot in the 2021 NEC Championships tournament.