Commane. A surname that feels like it’s been a constant within the Australian bowling fraternity for decades.
Rebekah Commane, or Bek, as she likes to go by (don’t forget its spelt with a ‘k’ not a ‘c’) is the baby of the Commane bowling tribe. A family that originated from Tasmania before moving to Victoria when Bek was 13 years old.
The now 21-year-old is living her dream as a student athlete on scholarship in the American college system.
This year was Bek’s third year in college or most commonly referred to as an athlete’s ‘Junior’ year. The college is Savannah College of Art and Design or SCAD for short which is located in Savannah, Georgia. Like most things this year, the coronavirus pandemic has cut short Bek’s junior year but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t already made a mark on the year.
In March, Bek was one of five female bowling athletes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) awarded All-American first team honours. A high-level accomplishment in American college sports. This honour follows an All American second team recognition in 2019 coupled with being a member of the 2019 NAIA College National Champion team.
There has been a lot of success for Bek within the first three years as a college bowler. That success largely derives from Bek’s character as a person. A set of key qualities that helps push her to develop as an athlete and become the best version of herself that she can be. These set of traits seem to be consistently noticed by her coaches, which provides reliable value to her team.
“Rebekah is an energetic, happy person. She always has a smile on her face and can always make you laugh. She is very expressive and is not afraid to speak her mind” said assistant coach and PWBA Tour bowler Verity Crawley.
Head coach Katie Thornton had a similar analysis of the 21-year-old National Training Squad member, yet with an added ingredient.
“Energetic, passionate, competitive, determined. Always wanting to learn more so she can beat her sister”.
Bowling is contagious. A lot of bowlers come from bowling families and Bek is no different. Parents Simon and Jeanine bowled. Then came the kids who were pretty much born into the sport. Bek has a total of two brothers and one sister. Her ‘bowling siblings’ – Chris and Kaitlyn, are well known in the Australian bowling community.
“Chris and Kaitlyn have been big influences in my life” explained Bek. “Being the youngest sibling, I grew up watching them bowl and was always attached to their hips- They taught me what it meant to be passionate and competitive which are traits I hold in my own bowling now”.
Chris and Kaitlyn have been involved and achieved a great deal in the sport in their own right.
Chris a member of gold winning Tasmanian rep teams and most notably part of the 2009 Tasmanian Men’s Rachuig champion team. In recent times, his knowledge and insight in the sport was provided a stage to voice his analysis when he provided commentary for the Rollin’ Thunder TV show. Kaitlyn represented the country seven times highlighted by being the Australian representative at the 2014 QuibicaAMF World Cup in Poland. Bek, the baby of the family witnessed it all and the accolades of her siblings inspired her to follow suit.
“Rebekah has always been my biggest supporter” explained Kaitlyn. “One time I had an NTS training on a Monday and Bek was meant to go to school. She told mum she was going but instead she hid in the back seat of the car under blankets and came to the training with Mum and I. She didn’t reveal herself until we were halfway there! It was hilarious, Chris Batson was the coach at the time, and he told me she will be successful because she is so desperate to be better and will do anything to achieve her goals (he let her join in)”.
As with all siblings who play sport, rivalry exists.
“There has always been a sibling rivalry, we both hate losing to each other!” explained Kaitlyn. “We haven’t had many opportunities to compete against each other yet, but it will definitely be on once she returns for good and bowls the ranked circuit with me. No matter the rivalry we still love watching the other succeed”.
Winning her first medal in bowling at five years old, Bek would begin her bowling career. A junior and youth career that many would be hard pressed finding a more decorated one.
Bowling at a high level in Australia involves participation in two types of tournaments. Individual and Team events. Bek would shine in both.
A President’s Shield representative from 2011-2017, Bek used shield as the platform to showcase her love of team bowling and performing in high pressure situations.
In 2014, she would play a key role in the Victorian girls’ team winning gold in both the female and overall divisions. Again in 2015 and 2017 Commane would be a key cog in winning gold in the overall division.
Always wanting to challenge herself, Commane would simultaneously participate in the Youth Nationals from the age of 15. Commane would be one of four female Victorian representatives and play a vital role in the achievements that would follow.
Between 2015-2017, Victoria would dominate the Youth stage and achieve a three-peat in the overall division by winning the titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017. On top of the overall achievements, Commane would be part of the gold winning female division teams in 2016 and 2017.
On an individual event side, Commane would also shine. All starting in 2014 at age 15, Commane would win her first title at the Sydney Junior Cup. This was followed by more national titles including the Geelong Youth Cup in 2015, a three-time winner of the Melbourne Junior Cup in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and a two-time Queensland Junior Cup winner in 2016 and 2017.
Commane would be the number one ranked bowler in the National Junior Rankings for three years straight from 2015-2017. In 2015 and 2016 she would also be ranked number one in the National Youth Rankings. These achievements highlighted by back to back wins in both the Junior Australian Masters and National Youth Cup in 2016 and 2017.
“The success I had in my TBA junior career still feels like a dream to me” said Commane. The accolades that Bek would collect in her junior career would help solidify her as not only one of the best in the country for her age, but more importantly for Bek, a separation of association.
“I was beginning to improve quickly. I was no longer Kait Commane’s little sister, I was my own bowler”.
Through her achievements and experiences, the sport of bowling became something Bek was very passionate about.
“There is nothing I love more than competing because there is something so exciting about the rush I get when bowling in high pressure moments” said Commane. “I love bowling because it really is a sport for anyone, and it has allowed me to meet people from all over the world”.
The success received as a junior made Bek contemplate what the next step should be. “I wanted to be the best bowler I could be, and I knew the USA would be able to make that happen”.
Her junior and youth resume would provide opportunities for her intent to become a reality. Still, family would be crucial in opening that door. Her sister Kaitlyn being the first Commane to be approached to join an American college bowling system.
“When we were first starting the program in 2015, I had really looked at recruiting international players as I knew that experience was invaluable” explained head coach Katie Thornton. The 2015 Women’s World Championship would be a platform that Thornton would attempt to recruit from.
“I ended up reaching out to Kaitlyn and we had some great conversations but we both knew it wasn’t something timing wise would work or that she was very interested in” explained Thornton. “We stayed in touch quite often and it came up that her younger sister had the interest of coming to the US. After watching a number of videos of her physical game, I knew there was a lot of potential there”.
For Bek, potential was matched with motivation to act on the interest. The motivation to live, train, compete and study in America is one that has been developed from witnessing a select few Australian’s experience.
“When I was younger, I watched as Stephen Cowland from NSW went to Wichita State and I really admired him for that. He even won a few National Championships with them” said Commane. “But it was when I saw Katey Furze and Emily Rigney, who are a few years older than me, that I knew the college bowling route was something I was definitely interested in. I wanted to become the best bowler I could be, and I knew the next step was being a part of a college bowling program”.
Bek was keen to pursue the dream. With Kaitlyn’s help, a connection was made to SCAD and head coach Katie Thornton was impressed with what she saw.
“I remember actually watching a video she had posted on YouTube that really showed her personality and I knew she would be a fun spirit to have on the team. It was evident that she was passionate about bowling and wanted to improve”.
College sports is big time in America. It is the pinnacle of sports after finishing high school and seen as a steppingstone to the professional level. A student athlete in America involves two parts in its definition. Student & Athlete.
SCAD prides itself as the college for creative careers. The chosen degree for Bek is a major in Social Strategy and Management which is the study of social media. The degree essentially equipping her with skills in advertising with brand accounts on multiple platforms.
SCAD has been Bek’s home for last three years. Situated in Savannah, Georgia, the campus is located in the heart of Savannah and consists of 14,000 students. The campus differs from the regular college campus that some may have seen on the TV.
The academic and dorm buildings are spread throughout the city. In a nod to the creative career university that SCAD prides itself in being, heritage architectural buildings are repurposed as university buildings and facilities. There are currently 67 buildings that are being utilised by the university.
As the famous saying goes – Everything is bigger in America and college sports is no different. For an Aussie or outsider, college sports can be complex to understand. Here is an attempt.
There are two types of colleges that offer athletic programs. A two-year college and a four-year college. The two-year community colleges with athletic programs fall under the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Four-year colleges fall into two separate associations.
- The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – are usually large public universities
- The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) – are typically smaller colleges with the majority being private.
Even though SCAD has been a member of both bodies, they are now a member of the NAIA and has been since 2002.
The NAIA is the governing body of small athletics programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics. Founded in 1937, the NAIA have over 250 NAIA member schools who host 77,000 student athletes per year. The NAIA provide $800 million in scholarships per year whilst also providing a chance to participate in 27 national championships.
Arriving in Savannah in 2017, Bek set her sight on a four-year journey in the states.
“It was extremely exciting and nerve racking” explained Commane. “Savannah is a very beautiful and historic city, so it was comforting to genuinely like the place I was living in. I was dreaming of winning a national championship”.
For bowling, College bowling is a lot different from anything else in the world.
“Not only are you competing with your teammates but you’re also around them day in and day out and living life together” explained head coach Thornton. “College bowling switches to where there is more than just yourself to worry about. I think the biggest change is the communication aspect. You go from thinking and only making your decisions yourself to having to communicate your moves and helping others with ball motion, support, etc. Good communication is one of the main factors that makes a good team”.
The formats for each tournament differ but usually consists of one day involving 5/6 team individual games and another day having 12-24 baker games. The Baker Format is a real team orientated format where more than one person comprises the score of one game. For a five person baker game you would have the first bowler bowling frames 1 and 6, second bowler frames 2 and 7, third bowler – 3 and 8, fourth bowler – 4 and 9, while the fifth bowler, commonly known as ‘the anchor’, bowls frames 5 and 10. It’s a format that provides a lot of team camaraderie, additional pressure, and an exciting close out to the game.
Her first season as a freshman saw Bek join a team that didn’t have many expectations. SCAD was a newer program with it being the 4th season of their existence. Still, progress and achievements were received by Commane.
“We qualified for the ITC (Inter Collegiate Championship) Nationals through sectionals and going into the event we were definitely the under dogs. The ITC is the pinnacle of college bowling. All the good teams are there. We came third in that event, only one win from making the TV show which still stings to this day but is one of my proudest moments”.
The first year provided a glimpse and reminder of how far Bek was from home.
“I feel as though it is hard for some Americans to understand the Aussie sense of humour” explained Commane. “There have been a few times I found something hilarious and no one but myself will be laughing. There are certain words or phrases I can say in Australia and no one bats an eyelid, in the US I have to be careful sometimes!”.
“Thong’s are flip flops!’ said head coach Thornton with a laugh when describing as one of the few things she has learnt from Bek in terms of Aussie slang.
“I think we have actually found how close the British and Australian language is” clarified assistant coach Verity Crawley. “But I do think her love for Vegemite has definitely been brought to the forefront”.
In her second season as a sophomore, things fired up for Commane. At the end of season awards for the NAIA and NCBCA, Commane was voted 2nd team All American for both. “It was an absolute honour”. Yet as history has shown, Bek tends to think about the team more than individual accolades.
“The most devastating part of that season was not making it through sectionals for ITC which broke my heart. After that happened, we had the NAIA National Championship a week later. Little did we know we were going to go on and win the event. This is the biggest achievement of my college career, winning the NAIA National Championship with the team. We got to bowl on ESPN3 which was incredible. A moment I will never ever forget”.
A bowling college program is tough and the two-part definition of student athlete is evident. For the student part, the requirement is to take three classes at a time for a duration of 10 weeks. Each class runs for 2.5 hours twice a week, totally 15 hours of class time a week. Then they are provided a lot of homework and projects to complete with many taking hours to compete. Art is a subject that cannot be rushed. Then comes the athlete part.
SCAD bowling practices four times a week, Tuesday to Friday, with each session lasting about three hours each. A total of 12 hours practice. Then comes the events which fall on weekends and when they do, practice occurs from Tuesday to Thursday with Friday being a travel day. Sometimes they may even practice at the bowling centre where the event is held on the Friday, depending on time and availability. Competition occurs on Saturday and Sunday with travelling home occurring on the Sunday night. In a bowling season there is around 10-12 tournaments a year.
“Some weeks we bowl 6 days straight. We always get Mondays off bowling, but we have a team workout with our fitness trainer Brent Sape instead. We also have 6am workouts on Thursdays with him as well” explained Commane.
Added to these commitments is also the fact Bek has a part time job at the SCAD Gyms on campus where she works around 10 hours a week.
A lot to manage for a young lady who is living halfway across the world away from home. The benefit to such a challenge is that it has provided an environment to develop as a person.
“I have learnt many life lessons” explained Commane. “I would say I am braver and honest with myself. Moving away from home at 18 alone forced me to grow up very quickly. I am a very independent person and my ability to get things done on my own have grown stronger. I have also become more patient with myself and others which is something I am very proud of”.
This year, her third season has been a rollercoaster.
“I faced a few struggles at the start of my third season” said Commane. “I had been wearing a large wrist guard for around 5 years and we decided it was time to take it off. It was difficult for me; I didn’t think I would be as good, and I was going through a negative mental stage where it made me quite upset”
Persistence and the developed skill of patience would come in handy through this transitional stage.
“I knew it was the right decision, it just took a while and a lot of hard work to get used to it. I bowled really bad the first tournament back and that’s when I knew I had to really dig deep and work harder than I ever did before. The next tournament after that I made the All-Tournament Team placing 3rd out of 200 people and that’s when everything turned around for me”
Bek would win an individual title at the Brunswick Southern which provided much needed confidence. Unfortunately for Bek, the season has been cut short due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. Still, an end of season awards ceremony occurred and Bek was recognised in the highest form.
Awarded 1st Team All American honours for the NAIA and an honourable mention for the NCBCA, Bek upgraded her achievement that was recognised the year before.
The selection of All-American teams are made by a panel of coaches who ranks their top 15 individual players based on performance throughout the season. Each event throughout the season is recorded on an online database so the coaches can see each player’s average and finishes in events with points awarded to each player based on their ranking by the coaches.
“This award meant a lot to me, and I was extremely proud. It awarded all my hard work and commitment. It clarified to myself that I did make the right decision to make the change I did” said Bek.
Obtaining any success in life requires one to overcome challenges. If challenges didn’t exist, everyone would do it. The biggest challenge Bek faces is understandable.
“I tend to have moments where I do get quite home sick” explained Bek. “Being away from my family for up to 5 months is incredibly hard but I have an incredible support system in the USA that help me get through it”.
The support system is comprised of both her family in Australia and her other family that has formed at SCAD.
Her family in Australia with the help of social media, has remained in touch throughout. “It is hard with the time difference to get a hold of them 24/7, but we make it work’ explained Bek. “My family is extremely supportive of what I am doing. I wouldn’t be able to do what I am without the support from Mum and Dad”.
Equally important in the support system is her SCAD ‘family’ which is spearheaded by coaches Katie Thornton and Verity Crawley. Katie Thornton, who has been the head coach since the program’s inception in 2015, ensures her program is aligned with what she believes to be the highest priority and goals of a student athlete.
“First and foremost, we want it to be an enjoyable experience for everyone” said Thornton. “Athletics is supposed to enhance the student’s collegiate experience and we want to make that the first goal. Of course, with that, being competitive and experiencing competing at the highest level still requires a lot of hard work and sacrifices. Some of the main things we strive for is a family atmosphere that allows the players to know they are cared for and they have Verity and I to always support them but at the same time we are there to challenge and push them to their limits. Our goal is for the players to develop into better bowlers with a combination of physical game changes and overall knowledge to help them become more competitive. I think what makes a good college team is an undeniable chemistry matched with skill building” explained Thornton.
The ‘family atmosphere’ goal of the program is appreciated by the athletes and the guidance is not overlooked or forgotten for Bek.
“Katie is one of the most honest people I know” described Bek of head coach Thornton. “Of course, she helps us become better bowlers, but she also makes it a goal of hers to make us better people. I call Katie my American mum. Whenever I need something, she is always there for me. Katie is extremely caring and only wants the best for us. Katie is also one of the most knowledgeable coaches I know, I am so lucky to have her as my coach”.
For Verity, Bek’s connection is quite easy because of the Australian/English resemblances.
“There are a lot of similarities we have with food, culture and music. I really enjoy being coached by her, she is extremely smart and is someone I trust with making decisions. Verity knows my game very well and what works for me and what doesn’t. This makes it easy to have pure confidence in her. Verity is always there for me and I always know she is a text away if I ever need anything”.
For those interested in the college bowling system, head coach Katie Thornton had a few tips.
“Keep working hard and hopefully have the ability to find a coach that can help you develop your physical game. If you’re interested in college bowling specifically, send and post videos to college coaches. The best thing you can do is always say yes to competing in tournaments, even if you do not win every time, it is the best experience you can get and a huge factor for college coaches to consider”.
The swift progress made in Beks bowling game throughout the first three years has provided a lot of learning opportunities to add to her already talented skill set.
“I definitely have learnt many new fun tricks and skills since coming to college. I am able to manipulate my game now and play parts of the lanes I never thought was possible for me. I have learnt an incredible amount about lane play which is very useful” explained Commane.
“You can see from old videos how much she has improved over the past few years” said head coach Thornton. “I think one of the most evident things is her ability now to play the entire part of the lane. When she first came to SCAD, she was not confident or comfortable in playing inside of 2nd arrow, but we forced her outside of her comfort zone and now she is very versatile. She has also learned a lot about ball motion and watching ball motion, allowing her better ability to make moves be more accurate and faster”.
Assistant Verity Crawley believes the number of weapons Bek has at her disposal is increasing.
“For me, the biggest difference is that she has so many more tools in her bag. She can now change her axis of rotation and change her speed and do it consistently. She has a much better awareness of what her ball is doing, she knows whether she needs to roll it more or her ball is burning up for example”.
The two coaches in Thornton and Crawley define Bek as a bowler with similar adjectives.
“Bek is a competitor and is always wanting to be at her best. She enjoys and always wants to be the person with the ball in her hands in order to make the shot the team needs. She’s a great spare shooter which always has to be someone who consistently bowls well and is able to prevent lower games from happening” said head coach Thornton.
“As a bowler, Rebekah is passionate, hardworking and very competitive” described Assistant Coach Crawley. “She loves to compete and loves to be in the position of needing to strike for her teammates. Her spare shooting is impressive and her ability to grind games out and continue to fight and figure things out when lost is admirable”.
In February, Commane would again follow the footsteps of her sister Kaitlyn. Bek was selected in the Australian adult ladies team that was scheduled to compete in Hong Kong for the 26th Asian Tenpin Championships. Like most of 2020, this has now been rescheduled for 2021.
The chance to represent your country remains the greatest honour for Bek. “I am extremely proud to be Australian – Representing Australia is something that fills me with so much joy. It means that I am making myself, family and the rest of the country proud. Everyone dreams of winning a gold medal of course, but for now I would love to win any kind of medal. Winning a medal overseas is a dream and goal of mine. If I keep working hard I know it is something achievable.” explained Bek.
With 2020 written off, 2021 will be Bek’s ‘senior’ year, her final year in the collegiate system.
“They don’t lie to you when they tell you ‘these 4 years will be the quickest time of your life’. With one year left there is nothing more I want to win than an ITC National Championship” said Bek.
In the ongoing quest to become a better bowler, Bek has long term goals which involves turning professional.
“In the future I would definitely love to give the PWBA tour a crack. College bowling is great steppingstone for the PWBA, which I feel has been preparing me” explained Bek.
There is no better person in place to support her dream than assistant coach and current PWBA tour player Verity Crawley. The PWBA star believes Bek has what it will take to reach that lofty goal.
“I strongly believe that she is only going to continue develop her game and I look forward to seeing her grow and hopefully compete against her on the PWBA tour”.Verity Crawley
Yet the biggest question remains for some. Who is the better bowler within the two sisters?
“We both have very different games and strengths, but I would say she has definitely surpassed me!” clarified her sister Kaitlyn. “She has worked so hard to be where she is now. Once she has a goal she won’t stop until she reaches it”.
All those years ago when Bek started out, Kaitlyn motivated Bek. Now it appears Bek is doing the same for Kaitlyn.
“I am so proud to call her my sister” revealed Kaitlyn. “She has achieved so much the past few years as an athlete and a student. She definitely inspires me to be my best. One of our goals has always been to represent Australia together and we hope one day we will get this opportunity”.
One must believe the Commane name will remain prominent for some time to come.
• Favourite Music- Pop and Rock (Little Mix, Bon Jovi)
• Favourite TV show- Orange is the New Black
• Favourite Movie- Wayne’s World
• What do you enjoy doing when not bowling? – Spending time with my family and creating art
• Who inspires you the most as a bowler? – Jason Belmonte
• Top 5 Australian bowlers that have impacted you the most? Ashley Riley, Kaitlyn Commane, Bianca Flanagan, David Porto, Glen Loader
• Video Games? Fortnite on Xbox
• What was the first ball you owned? 6lb orange Garfield ball
• What is your favourite ball now? Track Red Paradox
• Nicknames? Bek, Bekz, Bekky
• Favourite food? Beef burgers
• Do you have superstitions? When we wear the yellow SCAD jersey at competitions, I always have to wear my yellow socks that has Koalas on them with it
• Favourite song ever? The one that got away – Katy Perry
• What other sport would you play other than bowling? With women’s AFL becoming more popular now, that would be pretty cool
• Favourite sports and teams to watch? AFL – Hawthorn
• Favourite colour – Purple
• What would surprise people about you? I love Mayonnaise