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.

Over the threshold: Vanderbilt Bowling wins Prairie View Invitational

After falling just short in their last four outings, the No. 3 Commodores put on a tour de force to capture their first tournament crown of the season.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Vanderbilt Bowling finished in first place at the Prarie View A&M Invitational (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Last week, it was posited that free will was an illusion. It seemed for more than a month that some obstacle was destined to hold the Commodores back forever. Alas, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope.

“I think the fundamentals were always there,” head coach John Williamson said. “Hopefully, this gets us over the threshold of confidence.”

Certainly, it lets the fanbase believe.

“It feels really good, especially because we’ve been on such a long streak of making it to the championship and falling short,” freshman Victoria Varano said. “It shows us that we are capable of doing this.”

Victory was far from assured when the Commodores began play in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 27. The field of competition was shrunk considerably to a mere 12 teams — 11 of which were ranked, including the top 9 teams in the country. The reduced size led to a reconfiguration of the format such that each team would play one match against every other team before moving to bracket play.

This round robin style began with a matchup against host — and only unranked team in the tournament field — Prairie View A&M. Varano immediately got to work and posted a team-high 236 pins en route to a comfortable 1,023-905 victory. 

“[The freshmen] held their own,” Williamson said. “They were playing more like sophomores and juniors this tournament, and it really showed.”

Vanderbilt was then met by a triple-header of close matches as the following three contests were all decided by fewer than 10 pins. The first fixture came against No. 7 Youngstown State in the first matchup of the calendar year between the two rivals. Though the Commodores declined by almost 100 pins in total production, another solid performance by Varano and senior Mabel Cummins kept the team solvent.

The same could not be said in the following matchup against No. 6 Arkansas State. Despite a strong 227-pin performance from junior Caroline Thesier, the best bowling team in Arkansas was simply too much to handle. Nevertheless, the Commodores came bouncing back in a big way against No. 2 Nebraska as four out of five starters posted pin totals of over 200. Even though the Cornhuskers managed the third-highest pin total of the day with 1,109, an incredible 1,117 by Vanderbilt was enough for second and the win.

Friday night and Saturday morning were quiet as the Commodores managed to blow past No. 8 Sam Houston State and No. 9 Louisiana Tech. As if playing five consecutive ranked teams wasn’t enough, Vanderbilt then got a crack at No. 1 McKendree — a season series in which the Commodores trailed 4-1. Though both teams played well below their averages, Vanderbilt and Thesier did just enough to leave with a victory for the second straight meeting of the two rivals.

The Commodores didn’t let the emotional high from beating the top-ranked team in the country affect their output, but high-scoring performances from the remainder of their Saturday opponents forced the team into some disadvantageous outcomes. More Thesier and Varano greatness propelled Vanderbilt to a near-victory against No. 15 Mount St. Mary’s and a win against No. 5 Stephen F. Austin.

That said, something clearly affected the team in its final matchup of the night as they posted a tournament-low 907 pins and lost to No. 14 Fairleigh Dickinson.

The following morning, Vanderbilt got up to play its final round robin matchup against No. 2 North Carolina A&T. With a spot in the top four virtually assured, the Commodores could have taken the easy route and rested up before the challenge ahead. And yet, that is not — nor has it ever been — the Vanderbilt way. All five starters scored above 200 pins and the team marched on with a 1,066-935 victory against another ranked opponent.

The Commodores entered bracket play in second place and with a best-of-seven series against McKendree to decide a spot in the championship. Starting out with a double, Vanderbilt held its ground throughout the first match to take an early 1-0 series lead.

The Bearcats came back with a vengeance in game 2 and posted a scorching 259 pins to tie the series. Then, they took the lead outright despite a furious Vanderbilt comeback that saw the Commodores land five consecutive strikes to end the game. Those strikes failed to carry over to the next game, and Vanderbilt soon found itself down 3-1 and facing yet another elimination.

Strikes in six of the opening seven frames were more than enough for the Commodores to rebound in game 5 and stave off elimination. Once again, momentum failed to carry over to the next match, but sloppy play by both teams let Vanderbilt eke out a win to force game 7.

Game 7 was as dramatic as they come. With both teams neck-and-neck the whole match, everything came down to the 10th frame and the closing shots by Cummins. Once again, the veteran displayed the same poise she’s been showing for four years in the black and gold, and she sank two strikes to clinch a berth in the championship.

“We feel like we can compete with anybody,” Williamson said. “I don’t worry about who we play, or when we play or where we play.”

Former conference rival Stephen F. Austin lay ahead of the Commodores in the finale. Although Vanderbilt had bested them only a day prior, the Lumberjacks came out swinging with a 259-pin performance in the opening game. That early advantage failed to materialize into anything significant, as the strike well ran dry for both teams in game 2. The Commodores showed just enough signs of life via an opening double and consequently tied the series.

Another double — this time in the middle frames — gave Vanderbilt enough to best a slumping Stephen F. Austin once again in game 3. Behind three strikes from Cummins in the 10th frame, the Commodores found themselves with another victory in game 4 and a compelling 3-1 series lead.

“I feel like we were all able to come together and have confidence in each other,” Varano said. “It helps knowing your teammates will help you put those nerves aside.”

With victory close enough to taste, Vanderbilt laced up its shoes once again to finish the job. The team had found itself close enough over the last four tournaments to know that nothing was over until the final pin dropped. One strike fell, then another and yet another. In the end, the Commodores finished with their highest pin total of the series and clinched a championship for the first time in the 2022-23 season.

“This tournament was no different than the others,” Williamson said. “The difference was that we finished it.”

Despite the adversity faced this season, Varano felt that the team never gave up hope.

“I don’t think it caused any doubt,” the first-time champion said. “We know what we want.”

Vanderbilt Bowling will resume play Feb. 10-12 at the Lady Techster Classic in Dallas, Texas. Every match will be streamed live on the Vanderbilt Athletics YouTube channel.

Leave a comment
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]
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
All The Vanderbilt Hustler picks Reader picks Sort: Newest
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments