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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.

Out of the frying pan: Vanderbilt Bowling finishes third at Music City Classic

As the regular season draws to a close, the Commodores find themselves well positioned to make another deep postseason run.
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Vanderbilt Athletics
The Vanderbilt Bowling team (Vanderbilt Atheltics).

No. 2 Vanderbilt Bowling ended its seven-tournament streak of finals appearances with a third-place finish at the Music City Classic in Smyrna, Tennessee. With the regular season now at an end, the Commodores finished third or higher in every tournament for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.

“I think this group has the making of being able to be a special group,” head coach John Williamson said. “They have a talent that is undeniable.”

Vanderbilt got started on Friday against what is best described as middling competition. The Commodores breezed past No. 17 Central Missouri and No. 19 Lincoln Memorial with margins beyond 100 pins.

If that wasn’t enough, the following matches against unranked Aurora, Belmont Abbey and Spalding were decided by an average of 318 pins. That means that Vanderbilt played, on average, a full game better than its opponents over the course of a match’s five games. Maybe there is something to wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day.

A big part of that success was due to the team’s two freshmen: Alyssa Ballard and Victoria Varano. The tandem were Vanderbilt’s highest scorers of the weekend and have been a boon for the Commodores all season.

“Alyssa’s been pretty consistent across the year,” associate head coach Josie Barnes said. “You can expect her to be an even person in her spot.”

Barnes heaped additional praise on Varano.

“Sometimes the transition can be hard going from an individual style of play to playing with a team,” Barnes said. “She’s been making huge strides all season, but this is probably the most consistent the public has seen her.”

Heading into Saturday, Vanderbilt held a 236-pin advantage on the next-best team in the tournament. With that crown came a target, and with that target came a flurry of motivated competition.

No. 6 Youngstown State handed Vanderbilt its first loss of the weekend in a 1,065-1,033 defeat. After a rebound against No. 20 Wisconsin Whitewater, No. 4 Arkansas State dealt Vanderbilt another blow. Then No. 1 McKendree dealt them another one. What began as a homecourt coup-de-grace quickly devolved into a homecourt defense at all cost.

Though still playing well below their ceiling, the Commodores managed a comfortable win against unranked Valparaiso to salvage the day and the No. 3 seed in bracket play. That set up a best-of-seven series with Southland rival No. 12 Louisiana Tech.

After dropping the opening game, Vanderbilt rallied with strikes in the final seven frames to clinch game 2 and a 1-1 series tie. The Commodores continued to pile it on with strike after strike in game 3 — ending with a 231-185 victory.

Vanderbilt continued with five strikes in the opening six frames and held its ground en route to a 204-183 victory. Having opened up a nigh-insurmountable 3-1 series lead, the Commodores cruised past a demoralized Louisiana Tech to win the series in a mere five games.

The biggest highlight of the match was the performance by junior Amanda Naujokas who bowled ten strikes in her ten frames.

“You can’t do better than that,” Williamson pointed out.

You quite literally can’t. That performance created an opportunity for Vanderbilt to play in its eighth consecutive championship series with a win over No. 9 Sam Houston State. 

Game 1 was a sloppy affair from both sides as the Bearkats notched a low-scoring 185-181 victory. Not keen to let the streak end, Vanderbilt rattled off two separate runs of five strikes and dominated game 2 for a 269-175 victory. A narrow victory in game 3 gave the Commodores a 2-1 series lead and the inside path to yet another championship match.

Though any game in a seven-game series can be said to swing the matchup, game 4 felt like a textbook example of a pivot. Both teams shot well enough to make it anybody’s game in the 10th frame. A Vanderbilt win would create a 3-1 lead. A Sam Houston State win would re-tie the series.

The Bearkats knocked down one strike, then another and then one more. By making all three in the 10th frame, Sam Houston State had done just enough to secure the win and bring the series back to 2-2.

That was all the momentum the Bearkats needed to get back in their groove. By the end of game 5, Vanderbilt trailed 244-193 and faced a 3-2 series deficit. But that’s nothing this veteran-laden team hasn’t seen before.

“They’re all competitors,” Barnes said. “They understand the magnitude of the moment.”

Led by a pair of Mabel Cummins strikes, the Commodores roared back with a 213-205 victory to force a winner-take-all game 7. The coaching staff has a simple message for situations like these.

“Two shots a piece wins a game. Four games win a match,” Barnes said. “Don’t try to do anything bigger than we need.”

Though they tried valiantly, a tsunami of strikes from Sam Houston State proved fatal to any Vanderbilt championship aspirations. The final score of game 7: Bearkats 242, Commodores 198.

Vanderbilt then moved on to a rematch against Louisiana Tech for the right to claim third place. The team displayed no signs of a letdown performance as they continued to post high scores and string strikes together; yet, it wasn’t enough to overcome high-powered shooting from the Bulldogs and an early 2-1 series deficit.

Once again, the veteran experience of the team showed through as the Commodores capitalized on a slowdown in Louisiana Tech’s production. The deficit was trimmed to 2-1, then tied at 2-2 and then — courtesy of five ending strikes — was reversed to a 3-2 series lead.

Vanderbilt was tantalizingly close to ending the series in six games, but a split in the final frame sent the series to another winner-take-all situation. Whether from exhaustion or bad luck, neither team performed at their best in the critical game 7. Nevertheless, the Commodores did just enough and clinched third place with a 193-186 victory that came down to the final frame.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just being ourselves,” Barnes said on how to improve going forward. “As soon as we try to get outside of that, that’s when things get hard.”

Vanderbilt will now move on to the Southland Bowling League Championship in Rowlett, Texas, from March 23-25. Vanderbilt has won the last two Southland titles behind consecutive Tournament MVP performances from Cummins.

That’s not to say the tournament will be easy. The Southland Bowling League features other perennial powerhouses Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Youngstown State, among others. 

“The teams that win conference tournaments and regionals are the ones that treat it the most normal,” Williamson said. “A lot of teams get hyped for the postseason and do things differently.”

The rest of the coaching staff had a similar message.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just being ourselves,” Barnes said.

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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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