"The balls were pretty heavy because you're so tiny."
Now, as a 14-year-old who's about to head to her fourth national championship, "they're so light," says the Grade 8 College Louis Riel student.
She'll be Manitoba's junior singles rep at the nationals, starting May 2 in Toronto, along with her Dakota Bowling Lanes buddies -- Manitoba's senior female team that includes Marla Fedeniuk, 18, and 15-year-olds Nadine Alblas, Taylor Mellon and TD Holland.
The Dakota contingent is part of a Manitoba force that will total about 50 bowlers.
Earlier this year, Courchaine, who's coached at Dakota by her dad, Marc, bowled her highest total ever in a single game, 370. It's part of a natural progression that has seen her improve her per-game average by about 30 over last year at this time.
"I was really excited and nervous at the same time, because I didn't want to screw up and I was just jumping up and down and telling everyone, 'Look what I have, look what I have,' " she said this week. "And it's like at that moment, you feel so happy and proud of yourself because you did such a good job.
"It feels good to bowl good. It's just kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. If you're doing the right things, you just go for it and you keep on getting strikes and it keeps on going and you're like, 'Wow, I can actually do this' and stuff."
Holland was Manitoba's junior singles rep the last two years at nationals, winning gold in 2007 and bronze last year in Edmonton before she graduated to seniors.
Courchaine had finished second in junior singles zones to Holland last year and she's eager to compete in singles rather than team at the nationals, where she'll see friends she's bowled against from all over the country, including a girl from Newfoundland who could be her stiffest competition.
"I wasn't really sure if I was ready for it, but then this year I was like, 'Yes, I know that I can do this' and I really wanted to go for it," she said. "It's easier because you don't have to rely on anyone.
"If you're bowling bad and you're on a team, you'd have to rely on someone to bowl better for you.
"And if they don't, then you all go down. But for singles, if you're bowling bad, it's just yourself you have to rely on. There's no pressure of people telling you that you have to bowl really good. It's just you bowling. There's no pointing fingers and saying, 'We lost because you didn't get this amount of points.' "
Marc Courchaine said he expects both Nicole and the senior team have good chances for medals at the nationals. He said the fact that all five of the girls have grown up bowling against or with one another at Dakota for so many years is a huge boost.
"They've had birthday parties together, they've gone out to movies and all that kind of stuff," he said.
"They hang around together both outside and inside bowling, which to me as a coach makes life a lot easier. I don't have to worry about the different personalities not melding together.
"I've taken teams in the past where they're awesome bowlers in their own right, but you put them on a team together where you need to rely on somebody to pull their weight or encourage or do whatever, they can fall apart or get too tensed up. They forget to have fun.
"...It's all encouragement and positivity. It's been awesome."