The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

2022 Season Preview: Vanderbilt Bowling

With motivation from falling just short in last year’s national semifinals, Vanderbilt’s most decorated program aspires to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt bowling competes in a match during its fall 2021 season. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

If any other Vanderbilt sports team finished the season at No. 3 in the country, the vibe would be totally different. The coaching staff would be thrilled, probably fresh off the extension of a lifetime. The players would be at risk of a honeymoon period decline in focus and intensity. The city would probably throw a parade, or at least there would be an impromptu one down on Broadway. 

That’s what makes Vanderbilt bowling special: if they’re not first, they’re last.

That’s probably not the sentiment of the university administration,  the fans or especially the parents of the players—but it is the way the players themselves and the coaches approach every season. 

This year, immediately to the left of the entrance of their small alley in Vanderbilt’s Rec Center, head coach John Williamson put up a poster that says, “2023 National Champions Vanderbilt Commodores.” Each player has a smaller version of the graphic that they keep for themselves. 

“If we start a year not thinking like that, then I probably will not want to be doing this,” Williamson said. “That’s why they all come to school here. That’s what they all want to do.”

The Commodores are ranked No. 2 to start the season and boast a bevy of talent that begins with second team All-American and reigning Southland Championship MVP Mabel Cummins. The senior with ties to nearby Hermitage, Tennessee, has been a perennial All-Conference player since her arrival three years ago and is projected to be a leader on the lanes and in the locker room this season.

“I like to lead by example,” Cummins said of her role as a mentor in terms of technique and traits like “grit” and “discipline.”

It will help Cummins and fellow senior Amelia Kiefer that their newly-minted freshman class is one of the most talented Vanderbilt has seen.

Alyssa Ballard is an incoming player from Fort Worth, Texas, who’s the daughter of PBA Hall of Fame bowler Del Ballard and PWBA Hall of Fame bowler Carolyn Dorin-Ballard. As a member of Junior Team USA and sixth-place finisher in the 2021 Junior Gold Under-18 tournament, she brings much more to the table than just her family legacy.

“She’s advanced in her approach and demeanor,” Williamson said of Ballard’s advantage coming from a bowling family. “She’ll get some early looks.”

Victoria Varano of Stony Point, New York, might be the freshman that receives the most playing time early on due to her familiarity with some of Vanderbilt’s key players. Over the summer, she bowled in the Team USA Under-21 World Championships alongside Cummins and reigning NTCA Rookie of the Year Paige Peters.

“They’ve been really helpful with navigating everything,” Varano said of her prior connections with her teammates. “When you’re able to already be in the environment where you’re competing together, and strengthen those bonds already, it just rolls over into the team’s season.”

Jenna Hedgepath is the first Nashville native in the history of the program. When she will start her season is unclear, however, as she’s recovering from an elbow surgery in the spring and dealing with another lingering issue. As of now, her status is being handled week-to-week.

Vanderbilt will start their season on Friday, Oct. 28, with a weekend trip to Long Island, New York, for the Dezy Strong Classic. In November, the team will travel to Wisconsin and Delaware before a month-long hiatus until spring.

The spring will consist of five regular season tournaments that will be familiar to Commodore faithfuls. Matchups against elite competition like reigning-champion McKendree, Nebraska, Arkansas State, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State should be frequent during this timeframe.

On Mar. 23, Vanderbilt will head to the Southland Championship Tournament with a chance at their first three-peat in program history. All eyes will then turn to the Apr. 7 NCAA Regional and, should they advance once again, the NCAA Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, the following weekend.

Some things will be easier this year. For one, the university-mandated COVID-19 restrictions that limited team gatherings in the last two seasons are no more. The team also returns its two best players and has an incoming class that’s well-adjusted to the obstacles of being a student-athlete. New name, image and likeness (NIL) rules allow many of the players to profit off their abilities in a system that could motivate even higher levels of performance.

That said, there will be some challenges. Sophomore Kailee Channell will miss the entirety of the season after undergoing labrum surgery earlier in the fall. New regulations allow for nauseating variability in how tournament hosts can format rounds and select winners. And, of course, there’s the inherent volatility of every match in a sport without defense.

Through it all, the Commodores have a united goal.

“I feel like everyone else on the team,” Varano said. “I came in wanting to win a national championship.”

You can watch every match on their way towards the pursuit of this title on the Vanderbilt Athletics YouTube channel.

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About the Contributor
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Assistant 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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