When Katarina Hagler started bowling at age 3, she would wear sequin blouses and other colorful outfits.
“She was a fashionista,” said her mother, Tammy Hagler. “Other parents said they looked forward to seeing Katarina bowl because of what she would wear. It was usually something with glitter and bling — something that sparkled.
”These days, it’s Katarina Hagler’s bowling that sparkles, not necessarily her outfits.
In Thursday’s regular-season finale at Sawgrass Lanes in Tamarac, Hagler — now a 5-8 student-athlete at Coral Springs Charter — broke the county and state records for best average for a year — 229.9.
“Setting the state record was my goal all along, since the first match of the season when I bowled really well,” said Hagler, who nearly lost her voice on Thursday because she was cheering so loudly for her teammates. “It feels good. I was jumping for joy.”
The previous Broward County record for girls was 217.5, set by Coral Springs Charter’s Crystal Singh in 2017. Atlantic High’s Brooke Roberts in 2018 had set the previous state record of 223.3.
In addition, only one Broward boy — Andysson Alleyne — has a has a higher average this year than Hagler.
But perhaps the most amazing part of Hagler’s story is that she’s just 13 and doesn’t turn 14 until May. She’s an eighth-grader who has four more years to take aim at the national record for girls, which is 240.6, set by New York’s Emily Notebaert in 2013-2014.
Mike Nyitray, president of the U.S. High School Bowling Foundation and one of just 34 gold-certified coaches in the country, has observed Hagler’s game and has come away impressed.
“Every once in a while, a prodigy such as Katarina comes along,” said Nyitray, who is based in Parkland but is not Hagler’s coach. “A prodigy can be an organic force of nature who can do things that don’t make sense per their age.
“In Katarina’s case, she has solid bowling technique and a physical frame that allows her to transcend her youth. When you combine that with her dedication, you create an opportunity for extraordinary performances.”
Hagler has already had plenty of those. Last year, she led Coral Springs Charter to its first state title, averaging a county-best 191. She had a high game of 221 and was named Broward County’s Bowler of the Year.
This year has been even better as Hagler’s high game was 267 on Sept. 19 against Coral Glades, opening with nine consecutive strikes before falling one pin short on her 10th and final frame.
Hagler will get more opportunities to get what would be her first 300 game starting on Monday, when the district playoffs begin at Sawgrass. The state tournament is set for Nov. 6-7 at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando.
Nelson Martin, in his 12th season as the coach at Coral Springs Charter, said Hagler’s demeanor explains her improvement from previous years.
“Her biggest progression has been her maturity,” Martin said. “When she started with us in the sixth grade, if she missed a spare, she would get teary-eyed. She felt she was letting everyone down.
“Now she shakes it off and figures out how to correct her mistake. She’s like a machine.”
Helping her make those corrections for the past decade-plus has been her father, Thomas, who for two years bowled professionally in regional tournaments and has 25 300 games to his credit.
The first time Hagler got an indication that his daughter was going to be a special bowler was when — at age four she was able to pick up a ball with one hand and easily roll it down the lane. By 5, she was bowling without the bumpers protecting gutter balls, and now …
“She is doing 100 times better than what I did at her age,” Hagler said. “She’s going to have her pick of college bowling programs, and she’s getting to the point where she doesn’t need my instruction.”