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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Comeback Commodores: Vanderbilt bowling crowned champion of Northeast Classic

The Commodores bested No. 2 McKendree University to take home their second Northeast Classic title in the last three years.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt bowling captured the 2022 Northeast Classic on Jan. 23, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Energy was the key word.

“The team has been working on trying to get our energy up,” freshman Paige Peters said. “And it’s been showing.”

Between an abrupt cancellation of the 2019-20 season, another year bogged down by COVID-19 protocols, and an unpolished start to the present campaign, it’s hard to pin down the last time Vanderbilt’s energy flowed normally. Even heading into their second match on Sunday, the Commodores found themselves with five wins to six losses, their worst statistical performance of the year.

They could have gotten in their own heads. They could have mentally checked out. They could have accepted defeat and moved on to next weekend’s competition.

“But that’s not who we are,” head coach John Williamson said. “That’s not what we do.”

Thus, for the second time in three seasons, the Vanderbilt Commodores flew out of New Jersey with a Northeast Classic championship.

The competition began with five matches on Friday—each decided by the higher pin total after five games—against an immensely challenging slate of opponents. With all five matches coming against teams in the National Tenpin Coaches Association Top 25, there was zero margin for error once the Commodores stepped off the tarmac in Deptford, NJ.

In an 11 p.m. ET start against No. 25 Monmouth, the Commodores led wire-to-wire in a 1,047-983 victory—bringing Vanderbilt to 3-0 on the season against the Hawks.

The Commodores were then greeted by No. 4 North Carolina A&T, who got off to a quick 35-pin lead after Game 1. Vanderbilt rallied back with one of its best performances of the year—a 279-pin total with just a single frame that didn’t result in a strike. The Commodores built on that lead through the rest of the series, putting away the Aggies 1,148-1,045.

Then it was off to No. 19 Sacred Heart.

While the Pioneers took a slight lead after the opening game, Vanderbilt was able to overcome its tepid start and maintain control in Games 2-5 for a 1,139-996 series win.

That’s when things went awry.

Down 46 pins to No. 15 Fairleigh-Dickinson after the opener, the Commodores brought the pin total to within four after Game 2. In Game 3, they hit back-to-back strikes in the seventh and eighth frames to bring the lead to 32 pins. 

But their luck ran out.

Averaging a mere 183.5 pins over the last two games, the Commodores were felled by the Knights 1,001-978.

The final matchup of the day came against No. 9 Mount Saint Mary’s. While the Commodores led after Game 1, the Mount would strike back with a ferocious 253-181 performance in Game 2 to clinch a 45-pin lead. 

Having brought the lead down to three pins by the start of the final game, Vanderbilt nailed strikes in the ninth and 10th frames of Game 5 to clinch a 1,078-1,073 series victory.

And that was only day one.

While No. 8 Youngstown State was bested by the Commodores earlier this season, rusty shooting paved the way for a 1,029-915 Vanderbilt loss Saturday morning.

The Commodores shot better in their following match against No. 12 Duquesne, rebounding to boast 1,008 pins. Unfortunately, knocking down strikes and spares at a solid clip does no good when the opponent is shooting the lights out, so Vanderbilt found itself 0-2 on the day.

And when it rains, it pours.

Next came No. 17 Long Island University, who took advantage of the Commodore tailspin to total 1,074 pins and bring themselves to 2-1 on the season against Vanderbilt.

It kept pouring.

When faced with No. 18 Maryland-Eastern Shore at the beginning of the season, it was an easy 1,014-930 victory. This time, the Hawks took it personally—totaling their best pin count of the weekend. The Commodores would fall to 0-4 on the day.

The last game came against No. 14 Delaware State: the Hornets were fresh off an upset win over No. 10 Stephen F. Austin; the Commodores were desperate to avoid their first 0-5 day of the season. 

With every iota of pride on the line, Vanderbilt delivered Saturday’s best performance with a 1,087-pin total. Just like that, despite a .500 record heading into bracket play, the Commodores retained a chance at the title.

In fact, the odds of the Commodores making the finals were fairly decent: all it required was winning one their first two games.

The first obstacle: No. 2 McKendree.

Instead of picking up where they left off, the Commodores found themselves back in the land of perpetual struggle. Abysmal pin totals of 180, 180 and 178 were the results of the first three games; accordingly, the Commodores fell to 0-3 in the best-of-seven series. 

Despite upping the total to 203 pins in Game 4, Vanderbilt was still met with disappointment—they would fall to McKendree without inflicting a scratch.

With a shot at the title game still on the line, the Commodores limped to their rematch with Youngstown State.

“Credit to the girls,” Williamson said. “They simply decided that they weren’t done.”

The first two games of the series were close: tied at 1-1, Vanderbilt averaged 212 to Youngstown State’s 219.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, things started to really click.

The Commodores rattled off pin counts of 256, 235 and 245 to clinch the series against Youngstown State in five games. Vanderbilt, despite all of its shortcomings, would advance to the finals with another shot at the Bearcats.

In Game 1, Vanderbilt amassed a series of seven consecutive strikes to claim a pin count of 256 and a well-deserved victory.

But the strikes slowed down quite a bit in Game 2, as the Commodores would net a serviceable 203 pins, yet allow McKendree to tie the series. 

Leaving a pin standing in the final frame of Game 3, the Commodores fell short of the Bearcats’ total again. Now, they faced a 1-2 deficit—not an unsalvageable position, but certainly an unwelcome one.

The team still didn’t give up.

Claiming six strikes punctuated by a spare in the sixth frame, the Commodores ended Game 4 with a total of 237 pins. That would be enough to put Vanderbilt over the edge in most games; but, this time, they were given additional luck—the Bearcats only managed a pitiful 163 pins.

Tied 2-2, the series was anybody’s for the taking. No one could afford a blunder.

And yet, both teams didn’t do much to help themselves win. With a score of 179-150, Vanderbilt took a 3-2 series lead despite scoring its second-lowest total of the day.

All the Commodores had to do was win one of two games and the championship would be theirs. Instead of waiting for the moment to come to them, they seized it—there would be no Game 7, no more waiting and no more deficits.

Scoring 213 to McKendree’s 192, Vanderbilt walked away with a victory in six games. What had once seemed like an impossibility was now reality: they would take home the Northeast Classic title.

Williamson and company found themselves at the brink of collapse several times; yet, the Commodores refused to blink.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re encouraging each other and not getting quiet if something isn’t happening,” Peters said in regard to the team’s mentality. “I’m thinking in my head: I’m doing it for the people next to me.”

Vanderbilt heads right back into competition Jan. 28-30 in Arlington, TX, for the Prairie View A&M Invitational. 

Williamson believes his players have learned a lot from their trip north. Going forward, when shots don’t fall and the outcome looks bleak, he knows they’ll have the mental fortitude to weather the adversity. 

“The thing that the girls can take away from this weekend is that if there’s a mathematical opportunity for them to win something, then they have the ability to do it,” Williamson said. “No matter the odds.”

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About the Contributor
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
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