By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Lexus Lopez was just starting out in athletics as a little girl, she always had high hopes and aspirations.
“To be honest, I always thought I would turn out to be a gymnast,” Lopez said. “I was really into gymnastics when I was little. My Dad made a poster of me when I was about five years old that said, `Lexus Lopez, the next Olympic gold medal winner in gymnastics.’ That’s what I wanted to be.”
However, young Lexus didn’t exactly take to gymnastics.
“I’ve always been the tomboy type,” Lopez said. “I wanted to be the one to go up against the boys. I found it very motivational. Guys tend to have more aggression and that gets me going.”
So Lopez played softball and basketball and ran track. Oh, and she also became a pretty darn good bowler, much like her father, Andres, and her younger brother, Jordan.
But when Lopez enrolled at Lyndhurst High School, she never dreamed she could eventually become a scholarship athlete in bowling.
“I thought that I would eventually just go to college as a student,” Lopez said. “I didn’t think there were such things as (NCAA) Division I scholarships for bowling. I didn’t think bowling was a Division I sport at all.”
But as Lopez improved more and more as a bowler, she realized that there was a chance to go to college as a bowler.
“It was probably my sophomore year, when we won the county for the first time,” Lopez said. “I loved the winning part with my team more than anything and I knew I wanted to be a part of that in college.”
Last week, Lopez fulfilled what was once thought to be an unthinkable idea. She signed a national letter of intent to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University in the fall of 2013 on a bowling scholarship.
Lopez became the first Lyndhurst athlete to ever sign a college scholarship letter for bowling.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Lopez said. “It’s definitely a rare thing. You don’t hear of it.”
FDU has a top flight women’s bowling program, one of the best in the nation. The Knights went all the way to the national championship round two years ago.
“It is pretty amazing,” Lyndhurst bowling coach Michael Rizzo said. “It will be fun to see her bowl on the next level. I already told her that I hope to see her bowling on ESPN one day.”
Lopez is definitely a rare breed of athlete. Not only does she regularly compete with and against the boys, because Lyndhurst doesn’t have a girls’ bowling program, but she is also a two-sport varsity athlete in the same season.
Lopez plays girls’ basketball and bowls during the winter months.
“I love basketball,” Lopez said. “I don’t know what I would do without basketball. Even the coaches at FDU told me that I can play intramural basketball there, as long as I don’t get hurt. I love playing basketball.”
However, bowling was Lopez’s ticket out and she’s able to compete locally at some of the lanes where she has excelled on the youth and high school levels.
“I think that was part of the reason why I chose FDU,” Lopez said. “I hope to do well over the next couple of years and have my family and friends see me bowl. I have other friends who have gone away to college and they just don’t have the same feeling. I’m able to stay home. It’s the best possible thing for me. I want to have my parents and friends come see me bowl.” There will be one major difference for Lopez as she competes on the college level. For the first time since she began to bowl, she will be competing with and against her own gender. There are only women in NCAA women’s bowling.
“That will be way different for me,” Lopez said. “I hope I can handle it. When I get to college, the women there will have years on me in terms of competition. I have to be willing to put the work in.”
Lopez said that she was glad to be able to sign her letter, to get the college decision out of the way before the bowling season begins in a few weeks.
“It’s a big relief to me,” Lopez said. “While other kids are still applying to different colleges, my decision is out of the way. I can concentrate on bowling, on basketball and my grades and not have to worry about where I’m going. Believe me, choosing a college is a very stressful process.”
Rizzo was extremely proud to have his first big-time recruit sign a national letter. Who knows? Maybe younger brother Jordan, who will be a sophomore on this year’s Golden Bear roster, will be next.
“It’s a great moment for our program,” Rizzo said. “It is a reward for the hard work and dedication that Lexus has shown to the sport. This puts an exclamation point on everything we’ve done as a program over the last four years.”
Rizzo also noticed how Lopez thrives while competing with and against the boys.
“She really steps up her game when she’s facing the boys,” Rizzo said. “She likes the competition. It never fazes her that she’s facing boys. When it comes to girls, she’s already beaten most of them, so she’ll do well.”
Rizzo is also pleased that his standout bowler has made her decision known early in the process.
“I think it’s a big reason why she wanted to sign early,” Rizzo said. “She wanted to relax, go out and bowl the way she can.”
Rizzo hopes that Lopez’s signing serves as a motivation to others.
“I was a little upset that we had a low turnout for tryouts this year,” Rizzo said. “Maybe after people realize that Lexus got a scholarship, there will be a huge boost in numbers and in interest in the future. I think this is the first step.”
Lopez hopes to major in physical therapy at FDU.
“Maybe I will become a personal trainer,” Lopez said. “I want to do something to work with athletes. I think that will be pretty cool.”
Almost as cool as being the first athlete from Lyndhurst to earn a bowling scholarship