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.

Return of the Black-and-Gold: Vanderbilt Bowling finishes third at Dezy Strong Classic

The Commodores overcame a shaky Friday and Saturday to start their season on solid footing.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt bowling celebrates during a tournament in mid-January, 2022. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

With two of last year’s regular season bowling tournament titles coming in New York and New Jersey, the Northeast has been kind to the Commodores recently. That streak continued, albeit tepidly, last weekend at the Dezy Strong Classic in Long Island, New York.

Vanderbilt arrived at the tournament as its defending champion and at No. 2 per the NTCA—the highest-ranked squad in a crowded field of 18 teams. Action started on Friday, Oct. 28, with placement games against No. 16 Sacred Heart, No. 10 Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis Pennsylvania, Merrimack and St. Francis Brooklyn.

The Commodores showed some rust in the opening matchup against Sacred Heart as only freshman Alyssa Ballard was able to crack the desired 200-pin mark. Filling out the rest of the lineup were freshman Victoria Varano, sophomore Paige Peters, junior Amanda Naujokas and senior Mabel Cummins. The team found itself down 35 pins following the first two matches but clawed its way back to secure a narrow 24-pin victory by the end of the five-match set.

In games two through four, the Commodores continued to sputter. A sharp decline in production by Ballard was enough to convert an early lead into a significant loss against Fairleigh Dickinson, while an uncharacteristically poor game from Cummins certainly didn’t help in a 2-pin loss to St. Francis Pennsylvania. Against Merrimack, the Commodores still couldn’t pull it together, and they fell by 96 pins to an unranked team in perhaps their worst loss of their early season.

“We didn’t compete at a very high intensity level or with a sense of urgency,” head coach John Williamson said of Friday’s games. 

Spearheaded by a 220-pin performance from Varano, Vanderbilt found a groove in its final Friday match and bested St. Francis Brooklyn 983-771. Following a night’s rest, the competition got stiffer on Saturday, Oct. 29, as the Commodores faced No. 4 Stephen F. Austin, Adelphi, Molloy University, No. 11 Mount St. Mary’s and No. 22 Long Island.

Despite solid performances from each starter and 201 pins from Cummins, Vanderbilt couldn’t overcome an electric 1,002-pin performance from the Ladyjacks, nor a solid 937 from Adelpi in the following game. Those two losses put the Commodores in very unfamiliar territory with a record of 2-5 heading into Saturday afternoon.

The next match against unranked Molloy offered a get-right opportunity for Vanderbilt. Ballard, Cummins and Varano all eclipsed 200 pins and the team total broke 1,000 for the first time in the 2022-23 season. Strong performances by Ballard and junior Caroline Thesier then propelled the team to a follow-up victory against Mount St. Mary’s.

Saturday ended with a close loss to Long Island that left the Commodores at 4-6 in placement games. Despite the subpar record, Vanderbilt’s high overall pin total put them in fourth place heading into bracket play on Sunday, Oct. 30.

“I don’t know if there are many teams that are good enough just to show up [and win],” Williamson said. “For the first two days, it felt like we just showed up.”

The opening best-of-seven bracket match was a rematch against Stephen F. Austin. Whether motivated from the opportunity for revenge or simply more poised after another day of games, the Commodores split the opening four games of the series and won the following two by significant margins. 

Vanderbilt then moved on to a semi-final match against No. 8 Louisiana Tech. Sloppy play by the Bulldogs allowed the Commodores to clinch the first game with ease, while an uber-impressive streak of nine strikes in frames 3 through 10 put Vanderbilt up 2-0. 

Louisiana Tech came back with a vengeance in games three and four to tie the series 2-2. The Commodores simply lost their rhythm at that point and fell off hard in game 5. Despite a mild recovery in the sixth game, the Bulldog’s 236 pins proved too difficult to overcome, and the series ended 4-2 in favor of the team from Ruston.

Vanderbilt then moved on to face Stephen F. Austin once again in a match for third place. The two teams traded blows for six games before heading to a winner-take-all seventh where a team effort capped by a Varano strike sealed the deal for Vanderbilt. With a 210-188 victory, Vanderbilt took home third place in the tournament and finished with a 6-7 record on the weekend.

Maybe the most surprising part of the tournament was how much and how well freshmen Ballard and Varano played. Ballard herself was thrilled to have the opportunity.

“I fully understand if I don’t get to play at all,” the freshman from Fort Worth, Texas, told Williamson at lunch a few days before the tournament. 

When she played half the games Friday and every match Saturday and Sunday, she was over the moon.

“I was very happy with myself because I felt like I sort of showed him [Williamson] and [associate head coach] Josie that I could hold my own, be a member of the team and hold up the team,” Ballard said. “You always want to go up, do the best you can and hold up your teammates.”

The Commodores have an off week before heading to Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the MOTIV Ladyjack Classic from Nov. 11-13. You can watch every match live on 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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