Cover Photo: Barnes (l) and Team USA doubles partner Shannon O'Keefe
Josie Barnes has known the rush one gets wearing the uniform representing the United States of America. She was a five-time member of Junior Team USA and is now completing her fifth year on Team USA. She has traveled much of the world as an elite bowler, earning Gold Medals in international competition.
Yet, last month when she stepped onto the lanes at the Las Vegas South Point Casino for the World Championships she knew it was a unique experience.
“Up to that point, it felt that everything I had ever done in bowling was a lead-up to this moment,” Barnes recalled well after the World Championships ended. “The difference? Everyone in the world was there – the best of the best. Professionals in other countries. No weak links. It was a much bigger deal than any other tournament and you felt it.”
Barnes battled the pre-tournament nerves that everyone encounters on the biggest stages.
“I am always nervous before a tournament and believe if you are not, you are probably not ready to compete,” she says. “This was a totally different kind of nervousness. We had to think about keeping our emotions, our enthusiasm in check.”
Barnes responded to the challenge by becoming one of USA’s best pin producers on a squad that included fellow super stars Kelly Kulick, Shannon Pluhowsky, Danielle McEwan, Stephanie Johnson and Shannon O’Keefe.
The doubles team of Barnes and O’Keefe earned a Bronze Medal, which represents one of the high-water marks in her illustrious career. And Barnes made the Top 24 cut to compete in the Masters competition, an accomplishment that didn’t really sink in until afterwards.
“I had been so focused on our team goals that I really hadn’t paid much attention to the Masters standings,” Barnes said. “And we missed a medal in the team event (one of six events during the week of bowling) by just two pins so we were just crushed. It didn’t occur to me until afterward that making the Top 24 individually was in itself quite an honor.”
Even the best have to practice for the big events and for Barnes, the assistant coach of Vanderbilt’s fourth-ranked team, getting in the necessary work was difficult.
“It was hard to find the time,” Barnes confessed. “When our team travels we’re gone four days of the week and we had four consecutive tournaments leading up to the Worlds so there was not a lot of time for me. When we were home I’d be out of the house around 5:30 in the morning to get in an hour or 90 minutes of practice before some of the Vanderbilt team began to arrive. We practice most of the day with small groups so that’s the only time available.
“On the road, I’d bring one ball with our team’s gear and would practice in the evenings when the team was at the hotel,” Barnes continued. “Shannon (O’Keefe, her doubles partner and McKendree’s coach) had her team at three of the four events we were at so we’d go practice together. That helped getting to know her and her game better.”
Barnes says the experience was priceless from both a personal and professional standpoint.
“I’m not sure it has really sunk in almost two weeks later,” she admits. “It was a great experience as a player and a coach. I try to give our players my best and in this case, the entire tournament didn’t go the way we wanted. I learned from that. We fell short of some goals but I realized there were some things I can improve with my game and if I get another opportunity to do this I won’t make the same mistakes.”
Josie recalls a special phone message from her younger sister Jessica, herself a former Vanderbilt All-American and a Gold Medal winner at the 2012 World Youth Games.
“We had just finished third in the doubles and at the moment was disappointed,” Barnes remembers. “I pick up my phone there’s a message from my sister telling me how proud our parents will be that they now have two world medalists in the family.”
Indeed. Barnes has not yet framed her World Championship medal, waiting to take it home to Vandalia, Ill., where it can be enjoyed by her entire family, a family that fueled her career for almost 20 years.
“In the end, I worked hard and got to represent my country, my school and my family at the World Championships. How cool is that! That’s something I will treasure forever.”