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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.

Tales from Texas: Vanderbilt bowling finishes second at Prairie View A&M Invitational

The Commodores fought their way to the championship match of the Prairie View A&M Invitational for the second time in four years.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt bowling celebrates during a tournament in mid-January, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

If history repeats itself, the significance of this moment shouldn’t be lost on any Vanderbilt fans. The last time the Commodores made it to the championship match of the Prairie View A&M Invitational, they also made it to the National Collegiate Bowling Championship.

“I would hope if you interview my teammates, they would say they feel more confident,” junior Mabel Cummins said of the team’s national championship aspirations. “I certainly do.”

Whether the Commodores will make it to Columbus and earn a shot at avenging their 2019 loss remains to be seen; however, what’s perfectly clear is how far the team has come since the start of the new year.

After back-to-back fourth-place finishes to end 2021 and enter 2022, the Commodores found themselves confronted last week with the unthinkable possibility of a sub-.500 tournament finish. Then they found a way to win the whole thing.

The pins didn’t fall quite as they needed to this time around; but, if Vanderbilt keeps playing with the same unyielding mentality, these could be just the first of many brushes with the sport’s elite talent.

“We’ve been putting in work in practices and outside of bowling to get along more and understand the inner workings of each other’s minds,” Cummins said. “All the things you need in a sport that’s 20% physical and 80% mental, it’s starting to pay off.”

The action got started on Friday with a set of five matches—each decided by the cumulative pin total at the end of five games—against ranked opponents. 

Instant deja vu.

First came National Tenpin Coaches Association No. 19 Sacred Heart, who the Commodores bested a week prior in comfortable fashion. The outcome was even more lopsided this time: a 1,057-885 victory in which Vanderbilt led from start to finish.

As was also the case last week, the Commodores moved on from the Pioneers to No. 15 Fairleigh-Dickinson. The result was as disappointing as it was familiar: an ill-timed set of splits kept the Vanderbilt point total at its lowest of the weekend, and the Knights walked away in triumph for the second straight tournament.

“For whatever reason, we don’t tend to play at the same level against every team we play,” head coach John Williamson said of the repeat performances. 

Then came the mother of all rematches—a game against perennial foe Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, ranked No. 3 in the nation, have plagued the Commodores since last year’s NCB Championship quarterfinals. Friday’s match was no different.

While Vanderbilt led by 13 pins after the first game, a brutal 90-pin deficit in Game 2 created an enormous Nebraska lead. The Commodores wrestled their way to within 14 pins by the start of the final game, but missed spares in the fifth and 10th frames cost them a chance at a comeback victory. Vanderbilt is now 0-3 against Nebraska on the season.

The funk of their blown opportunity may have impeded the team’s senses at the beginning of their next match. Scoring only 166 pins, the Commodores found themselves down to No. 4 North Carolina A&T by 57 pins following the first game. But, never a team to throw in the towel, they charged back to take a seven-pin lead into the final pair of games.

Despite splitting Games 4 and 5, Vanderbilt claimed a narrow 995-986 victory, handing them their second win in two weeks over the Aggies.

With the stain of two losses thoroughly behind them, the Commodores rolled on to their final opponent of the day—No. 8 Youngstown State. Unlike last week, the Penguins were unable to secure solid footing, and trailed by an insurmountable 102 pins after the first two games. 

Just like that, Vanderbilt finished the first day of competition in fourth place.

Day 2 began with a pair of relatively uneventful matchups against No. 13 Tulane and tournament host Prairie View A&M. Between the two games, the Commodores held a plus-291 pin differential on the day.

But not everyone was happy to see them succeed.

Motivated by a close loss in the championship of last week’s Northeastern Classic, the No. 2 McKendree Bearcats were out for revenge; but, despite taking an early lead, they proved incapable of sustaining their advantage. The final result was a 90-pin Vanderbilt victory.

Having improved their tournament record to 6-2, the Commodores faced off against another high caliber team in No. 6 Arkansas State. The Red Wolves, a Southland Bowling League foe, had failed to secure a win over the Commodores in their prior three matches.

Their streak was not to end. With a 1,008-951 final pin count, Vanderbilt proved victorious.

With one game left in the day and one further qualifying match on the horizon, the Commodores looked to cement their placement near the top of the bracket.

Given their status as historic Southland Bowling League rivals—that is, until the latter opted to leave this season—it’s surprising that Vanderbilt and No. 1 Sam Houston State had only played each other once entering the weekend. The result of the prior: a grueling seven-game series in the Eastern Shore Hawk Classic quarterfinals.

This time wasn’t any different. Despite scoring an average of 207.6 pins per game, the Commodores found themselves on the wrong side of one of Saturday’s best performances.

In a departure from previous competitions, Vanderbilt’s first game on Sunday served as the final determinant of bracket seeding. The matchup, against No. 7 Louisiana Tech, included its fair share of fireworks despite the awkward placement, as all five Vanderbilt bowlers—Angelica Anthony, Mabel Cummins, Amanda Naujokas, Caroline Thesier and Paige Peters—finished with above 200 pins. The final result was a 1,108-1,056 victory. 

Having eclipsed 1,000 pins in nine of 11 games, Vanderbilt entered bracket play with the No. 1 seed and a rematch against McKendree. The Bearcats proved much tougher this time.

After winning Games 1 and 2 with runs of three strikes in the middle frames, the Commodores played a strikeless Game 3—bringing the series to 2-1. Game 4 served as a massive bounceback, as strikes in frames 3 through 10 granted the Commodores a near-unblowable 3-1 series lead.

And so the Bearcats decided to unleash their inner LeBron.

Game 5: no Vanderbilt strikes; McKendree scores 215; Vanderbilt leads 3-2.

Game 6: McKendree rolls strikes in the first nine frames; Vanderbilt scores a mere 180; series tied 3-3.

When under pressure, the Commodores have developed a strategy: don’t blink, and play freshman Paige Peters at the anchor spot— the final player in a starting rotation. Once again, behind two strikes in the 10th frame from Peters, the binary stratagem proved successful.

The Commodores moved on to the championship game for the second weekend in a row.

With a chance at winning consecutive tournaments for the first time this season, Vanderbilt lined up to rematch Sam Houston State. It didn’t begin very well.

Games 1 and 2 were taken by the Bearkats in impressive fashion. Having whiffed open shots in the eighth and ninth frames of Game 2, the Commodores found themselves in a hole of their own creation.

Sam Houston State did its best self-sabotage operation in Game 3, scoring an atrocious 156 pins and gifting Vanderbilt its first game of the series. Game 4 wasn’t much closer, as six Commodore strikes left the Bearkats and their 188 pins out to dry. The series was tied 2-2.

While Vanderbilt’s scoring slowed down in Game 5, it was the revived ability of Sam Houston State to hit open shots that cost the former a chance at the series lead. With a score of 234-202, the Bearkats found themselves a game away from a 3-0 season lead over the Commodores.

So Vanderbilt responded.

Frames 2 and 3: strikes. Frames 5 and 6: strikes. Frames 9 and 10: strikes.

The Commodores weren’t going down without a fight. 

“You can certainly tell between teams when they’re not feeling confident because you can see it in their body language and their cheers,” Cummins said. “Being positive is something we work very hard at because it sets the tone for the whole match.”

With unrelenting optimism and a vast amount of talent at their disposal, the Commodores entered Game 7 with a simple question: why not us?

The team fought hard to avenge an early error, bringing the game down to Peters’ final shots. Unfortunately, while three consecutive strikes could’ve won the series, it wasn’t meant to be—the 10th frame ended with a strike and spare instead. 

With that, despite the ups and downs of the prior week, one of the most stacked competitive fields of the season, and a fair share of early-tournament adversity, the Commodores had battled their way to a No. 2 finish.

When asked at practice what his players needed to succeed in future championship matches, Williamson had a simple answer.

“Experience,” Williamson said. “But you only get those experiences by being in that situation.”

Vanderbilt bowling will have a week off before traveling back to Texas for the Lady Techsters Classic from Feb. 11-13. Every match can be watched live via the Vanderbilt Athletics YouTube channel.

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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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