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.

Southland Setback: Vanderbilt Bowling bows out early from Southland Bowling League Tournament

Burdened by sloppy play and small margins of error, John Williamson’s team was unable to capture its third consecutive league title.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Mabel Cummins is presented with the Southland Bowling League “Bowler of the Year Award” on March 24, 2023 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

After earning the top seed in the best conference in the country and rising to No. 2 in the polls, Vanderbilt Commodores did not perform to their usual standard this weekend. In fact, it was their worst outing at the Southland Bowling League Tournament since the competition’s inception in 2015.

“We definitely were not our sharpest this weekend, and we had some teams take advantage of that,” head coach John Williamson said.

The team’s woes did not begin immediately. With the top seed in the tournament, the Commodores played lowly Valparaiso in the opening round of the double elimination tournament.

The Southland Bowling League uses a special format for its championship tournament known as a “mega-match.” Teams play a traditional match followed by a Baker match, and, if the teams tie 1-1, they then proceed to a best-of-seven series.

Vanderbilt’s opening traditional match against the Beacons was open and shut behind a monstrous 238 pins from two-time reigning tournament MVP Mabel Cummins. The Commodores then built another healthy lead in the Baker match and pulled their starters by the end of it. Just like that, it was on to the next (mega) match.

Round 2 came against No. 9 Sam Houston State — a revenge opportunity for last tournament’s semifinals loss. Despite the added motivation, steep drops in production by Cummins and freshman Alyssa Ballard kept Vanderbilt from clinching the traditional match.on

In the ensuing Baker match, the Commodores took an early 27-pin lead before an abjectly abysmal game 2 erased all momentum. Games 3 and 4 went back and forth between the teams before Vanderbilt pulled away with a scorching 237 pins in game 5. That set up a best-of-seven series with the Bearkats.

After pulling away for a decisive game 1 victory, a pair of opens — not striked or spared — frames cost the Commodores in a narrow 173-172 loss. Both sides traded errors in the ensuing games to leave the series tied 2-2.

Having lasted for over three hours, the closing games of the series were best defined as a war of attrition. Vanderbilt committed error after error in game 5 and fell to a 3-2 deficit. Sam Houston State left 145 points on the board and were blown out in game 6. 

After a traditional match, a Baker match and six games of a series, the two teams found themselves still tied. Nothing changed in game 7. Vanderbilt hit a strike. Sam Houston State hit a strike. The Bearkats notched a spare. The Commodores notched a spare. By the end of it, the scoreboard read 194-190 in favor of Sam Houston State.

Four hours into the match, Vanderbilt found itself short by a mere four pins out of over 4,000.

“You don’t want to be the team that flips the light switch on and says now we’re going to compete,” Williamson said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Vanderbilt learned that lesson in dramatic fashion and moved on to face No. 6 Youngstown State in a do-or-die elimination game.

Phenomenal striking by the underclassmen Paige Peters and Victoria Varano led Vanderbilt to a rousing 1,050-982 victory over the Penguins in the traditional match. That momentum carried over into the first two games of the Baker match as the Commodores built a 30-pin lead.

Still,  Penguins are ranked in the top 10 for a reason, and that reason shone through in their spirited comeback in the remainder of the Baker match. A 44-point edge in game 3 gave Youngstown State a lead that they refused to surrender in the remaining 20 frames, and the Commodores were destined to compete in yet another best-of-seven series.

Vanderbilt opened strong with a pair of strikes in the opening frames of game 1. Then they failed to strike again. Vanderbilt opened strong again with a pair of strikes in the opening frames of game 2. Determined not to become a prisoner to the illusion of free will, the Commodores connected on three more strikes at the end of the game to tie the series 1-1.

Vanderbilt opened strong yet again with three consecutive strikes in the opening frames of game 3. Though they didn’t connect at the end, the early advantage was enough to carry the Commodores beyond the finish line and to a 2-1 lead.

Game 4 was a reversal of the trend as Vanderbilt failed to connect on a strike until the closing frame. Despite the inconsistency, Cummins’ anchor spot performance was just barely enough to secure a 206-205 win for a 3-1 advantage. Now the Commodores were only a game away from a shot at revenge.

Following an open in the first frame, Vanderbilt connected on three consecutive strikes to keep themselves in the game before an open in the ninth proved lethal. With the series narrowed at 3-2, the Penguins capitalized on their momentum and skated to a game 6 victory that set up another winner-take-all situation for the Commodores.

The teams had been equally matched for over three hours, and that continued to be true as game 7 progressed. By the 10th frame, Vanderbilt held a narrow lead. They seemingly had caught a break as Youngstown State faced a 6-7-10 split — one of the most difficult shots in bowling. With all that pressure and all that difficulty, there was no reason to think the Penguins would persevere.

Then, with the entire series on the line, the six fell, then the seven and then the 10. Youngstown State converted on the almost impossible and relegated the Commodores to their worst performance in Southland Bowling League Tournament history.

“We’re ready to get on to the next one,” Williamson said. “Sometimes a setback can refocus some things.”

The Commodores now await the NCAA Selection Show on March 29 to find out who, when and where they will play next.

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