Stephanie Brogna never planned on competing for Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill College bowling team or being the head coach at St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, but the Lancers alum knew that someone had it in mind for her.

“I believe in a higher spirit,” the St. Clement of Matawan parishioner said. “Having something to rely on in life, something that’s gonna guide you in the future, is always a positive. You always feel like bigger things are about to happen.

“My life theory is everything happens for a reason and there’s a direction you’re going in,” she continued. “I was not planning on bowling in college, I just relied on faith that something good was happening … I think God definitely has a plan. And you gotta trust him. I was never planning on coaching either. But everything happens for a reason.”

So here she is, back at SJV as the replacement for long-time head coach Bill Kusch, who was in charge when Brogna bowled there from 2012-2016. Stephanie was part of two NJSIAA Group I state championship teams after having never picked up a ball before ninth grade.

“I made a deal with my parents to get involved,” she said. “Going to private school is a commitment for kids and parents. I thought ‘Bowling sounds fun, why don’t I try that?’ and ended up really loving it and finding a really great group of friends and having that support system for four years.”

The Morganville resident “vaguely remembers” picking up a house ball her first day of practice with no idea of what was going on. She soon found her rhythm on the lanes and began getting private coaching while also learning from friends, parents, coaches and even some professionals.

“The bowling community is just so special like that; people help each other,” Brogna said. “When I was at SJV, there were at least one or two people from every team where we’d all be friends and go practice together. We’d all hang out and tell each other how to bowl. Even during games we’d say ‘Hey you need to move a couple boards, your ball isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing.’

“It’s different than baseball, where you’re not gonna tell the other team how to play. Everybody wants to help you. Everyone wants to give you an extra trick; something to work on, something that you can improve your game with. I just started listening to people.”

Brogna made the Shore Conference Individual finals as a senior, but had no designs on bowling in college. Out of the blue, however, came a phone call from the Chestnut Hill coach wondering if Stephanie would want to play with its start-up NCAA Division II program. She opted for it and, while it took time to adjust to college bowling, Brogna discovered the friendships and willingness to help each other was similar to high school.

“By my senior year I was like, ‘I’m not ready for this to be over,’” she said. “So now I’m back here (at SJV) and coaching. I’m not off the lanes, I’m still bowling, I’m still playing tournaments and in leagues. At this point I’m just enjoying it more than anything else.”

After graduating with a degree in Communications with a concentration on journalism and professional writing, Stephanie took positions as Social Media Coordinator for Tom Russo Photography, and as the Editorial and Business Development Assistant for Bella Magazine.

“I have a ridiculously long title (at Bella),” she said with a laugh. “But in essence, I’m writing online and doing online editorial. It’s a fashion lifestyle magazine, so it’s anything and everything.”

Stephanie took on a third job when Kusch asked her to be his assistant for the 2020-21 season. She did so for two years and felt her role was mostly as a motivator. While the Lancers have one of the state’s best talents in rising junior Sydney Bohn, they also have bowlers like Brogna coming in with little or no experience.

“You either have the talent for the sport or you don’t,” Brogna said. “Some of those kids come in and excel beyond anything more than you could imagine. Kids like Sydney have that background. Sydney is her own being right now.  She’s got PBA Hall of Famers with her mom and dad, so that’s a whole other story.

“But I feel there’s a lot of those kids who want to do something, they want to be part of a sport,” she noted. “That’s what I was in high school, so I understand where they’re coming from. To say to them ‘Hey why don’t we try to do this instead of doing what you’re doing?’ That’s kind of where I was (as an assistant), I was trying to help the kids kind of grow in the sport more than anything else.”

When Kusch decided to step down after coaching SJV most of this century, he asked Brogna if she would be interested in taking over.  

 “Stephanie is very knowledgeable, patient, hard-working and positive in her attitude,” the former coach said. “She will be great at the job in my opinion.”

Brogna jumped at the opportunity. The Lancer girls were 15-0 last winter and while the boys had a 4-11-1 record, Stephanie noted that each member raised their average from the year before and all but two bowlers are returning. She likes the potential of each team and realizes that now she cannot just be their friend, as she was an assistant, but must walk the fine line of friend and coach.

Being so close in age with the bowlers, she feels comfortable in doing so, and has already decided on what she wants to achieve.  

“Bowling is never taken seriously, and I just feel like I want them to take the sport more seriously,” Brogna said. “It’s not a Friday night out with your friends. It’s a varsity sport. Earn your letter. But at the same time, I want them to have fun.

“There are so many different levels of bowling that nobody realizes. I think a lot of our bowlers have a lot of potential. I just want to be able to take them to the next level and I think that’s something that’s definitely achievable. They all have the basics of the sport, they know what they’re doing, they just have to pick up a notch.”

Brogna can’t wait to start the process.

“I keep saying it’s like a full-circle moment,” she said. “SJV is where I fell in love with bowling. Going back to the place where my love and passion for the sport started, it’s surreal. It still doesn’t feel real to me that I’m doing this.”

It’s real, all right. As Brogna noted, it was the plan all along, even if she didn’t know about it.