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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.

The illusion of free will: Vanderbilt Bowling finishes second at Northeast Classic

For the fourth consecutive tournament, the Commodores find themselves just short of the crown.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt bowling players and coaches huddling during NCAA championships. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

There are two types of people: those who believe in free will and those who do not. Regardless of where one stands, it is an objective fact that in four tournaments in a row, Vanderbilt Bowling has found itself in the same exact situation regardless of what it does. Think about it like Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray or groundhogs — and with balls and pins.

The deja vu sequence began on Jan. 20 when No. 3 Vanderbilt utterly dominated its opening day competition despite drawing quality opponents in No. 12 Duquesne, No. 13 Delaware State and No. 18 Mercyhurst. The closest matchup of the day — which came against the last of the aforementioned opponents — was decided by a significant 112 pins. 

“The pins know when you’re confident throwing shots,” senior Mabel Cummins said of the metaphysical dynamic between pieces of bowling equipment. “You get more carry [on the ball] and you get lucky.”

The Commodores’ matches on the second day proved to be a bit more challenging. A victory against No. 10 Maryland Eastern Shore was the first game within 100 pins, and the following match against No. 21 Sacred Heart came down to the very last frames. In the end, magnificent performances from Cummins — who finished fifth on the all-tournament rankings with an average of 223.6 pins-per-game — kept the Commodores moving right toward another perfect day.

Between Friday and Saturday, Vanderbilt notched 10 wins and its first perfect qualifying match record of the season — in fact, it was the team’s first 10-0 record since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In conjunction with their accumulated pin total, that record propelled the Commodores to the top seed entering bracket play.

“One of the things that they did really well this weekend is that they were never concerned about what was going on around them,” associate head coach Josie Barnes said. “They were just themselves.”

At the opposing end of the Commodores’ first match of bracket play — a match that determined an auto-bid to the championship round — lay No. 1 McKendree. As has been reported previously, the Bearcats have been a thorn in Vanderbilt’s side all season. In fact, heading into the tournament, they led the season series against the Commodores 4-0.

Past shortcomings didn’t hold Vanderbilt back at the beginning of the match as they took an early 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. After the teams traded subpar performances in games 3 and 4, the Commodores held a nigh-insurmountable 3-1 victory.

And yet, as nigh-insurmountable as it may have been, the Bearcats did make an effort to close the gap with a scorching 247-pin performance in game 5. Alas, a double and a turkey in game 6 put McKendree to sleep and allowed the Commodores to take their first victory of the season against the top-ranked team in the country.

Securing a spot in the championship round after the first Sunday series can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it provides time to rest and regroup before the biggest moment of the weekend. On the other, the adjustment period between a bye round and a championship match can be rather rough.

“The mental shift [between matches] is something we just have to learn to be better at,” Barnes said.

That potential sluggishness came into question as Vanderbilt dropped the opening game of the championship series to No. 4 Nebraska, 228-225. Just a slight nudge of the ball in one direction could’ve been the difference in forging an early lead and finding an early hole.

“You just can’t give good teams a lead like that,” Barnes said.

That early deficit definitely seemed to do a number on Vanderbilt’s psyche as the team posted a horrid 169-pin total in game 2. Late-game heroics by Cummins then kept a low-scoring game 3 from becoming yet another loss. 

“We have to believe that we deserve to win,” Cummins said on what Vanderbilt needs to do in moments of adversity. “There’s nobody that works harder than us.”

Great leaders lead by example, and Cummins’s squad demonstrably learned from her success in a bounceback game 4. With 235 pins, it was the Commodores’ highest-scoring match of the championship round and equalized the series record at 2-2. 

Unfortunately, a costly split in game 5 proved decisive in a narrow Vanderbilt loss that put the team on the brink of elimination. Then, by virtue of an earth-shattering 243-pin game 6 by Nebraska, the Commodores were pushed over the edge.

“It stinks being right there at the finish line, and it seems to be that something always happens that doesn’t quite allow you to get across,” Barnes said. 

Nevertheless, she sounded a positive note despite the frustrating result.

“If championships keep having to run through us, we’re eventually going to get there,” Barnes said.

The sentiment was much the same from Cummins.

“Our work ethic will carry us there,” the team captain said. “One of these days, we’ll get lucky because it’s our time.”

Vanderbilt Bowling will be right back in action from Jan. 27-29 for the Prairie View A&M Invitational in Arlington, Texas. 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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1 year ago

He’s done it again, folks!