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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.

Bowling: Vanderbilt clinches third place at Destination Orlando

The top-ranked Commodores traded blows with the sport’s premier programs and came away with an 8-5 finish that left more to be desired.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Paige Peters and Madison Lindley were named Destination Orlando All-Tournament team after finishing in second and fourth at the event, which took place from Oct. 27-29, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

After opening the 2023 season with a dominant victory at the Warhawk Classic, No. 1 Vanderbilt Bowling showed flashes of brilliance interspersed with moments of vulnerability in a third-place finish at the Destination Orlando tournament from Oct. 27-29. The Commodores went 8-5 over the weekend and finished behind No. 6 Youngstown State and No. 7 Jacksonville State.

“I don’t necessarily enjoy the third place finish, but I feel like we had a chance to win it and we didn’t,” head coach John Williamson said. “We just had some mistakes at the wrong time.”

Compared to the opening tournament, Destination Orlando featured a drastic step-up in competition with nine of the 18 teams present being featured in the NTCA Top 25. The larger competitive field also meant a return to the standard tournament format of five Baker matches on Friday, five traditional matches on Saturday and three Baker best-of-seven bracket matches on Sunday.

The tournament began with a rematch of last season’s national championship as Vanderbilt took on No. 2 Arkansas State in their first contest of the 2023-2024 campaign. After building a significant 57-pin lead through the first two games, the Commodores let their advantage slip with finishes below 200 pins in the remaining three games. With a final score of 1,030-1,003, the Red Wolves took the first of presumably many matches between the squads this season.

Vanderbilt rebounded with a 1,037-975 win over No. 22 Tulane that was headlined by a 266-180 rout in game 2. The ensuing match against No. 5 Stephen F. Austin remained close through three games, but a string of eight consecutive Lumberjack strikes to open game 4 was too much for Vanderbilt to handle. With a final score of 1,065-998, the Commodores fell to 1-2 on the day.

Friday concluded in anticlimactic fashion as Vanderbilt took care of business against unranked Daemen and Monmouth. The Commodores entered the second day of competition in fifth place with a record of 3-2.

Vanderbilt found itself immediately back in the heat of competition on Saturday as it faced Jacksonville State to open the traditional matches. The Gamecocks — now a rival of the Commodores in Conference USA  — narrowly got the better of the Black and Gold despite an utterly remarkable 245-pin performance from freshman Haley Lindley.

“She’s just a competitor,” Williamson said of the freshman. “She’s the type of person that wants to throw the [big] shot. She doesn’t shy away from anything.”

Junior Paige Peters led the charge for the Commodores in the second traditional match against Youngstown State. The New Jersey native finished with 269 pins including a streak of seven consecutive strikes. Sophomore Victoria Varano then took her turn leading the squad in match 3 against Delaware State, as the All-American Honorable Mention tallied 257 pins in the Commodores’ 1,130-903 dismantling of the Hornets.

Match 4 against Alabama-Birmingham was a historic performance for Vanderbilt. With scores of 205 for Caroline Thesier, 227 for Varano and Ballard, 246 for Peters and 261 for Lindley, the Commodores finished with a whopping 1,166 pins — the ninth-highest traditional match total in program history.

After the emotional high of that performance, the Commodores came slightly back to earth with 1,023 pins against unranked Emmanuel. While that total would have been enough to overcome the small Georgia private school at any other point on Saturday, Vanderbilt had the misfortune in a sport with no defense to draw the Lions’ best performance of the weekend. With a final score of 1,059-1,023, the Commodores frustratingly fell to 6-4 and entered bracket play in third place.

Based on the bracket setup, Vanderbilt needed to win its first two matches on Sunday to make it to the tournament’s championship match. That seemed like a live, if not likely, possibility when the Commodores drew Youngstown State after having defeated them a day prior.

Vanderbilt dominated game 1 of the best-of-seven series 233-185 before dropping game 2 in a similar scoreline. After a close loss in game 3, the Commodores had the opportunity to even the series with their next performance; but, when the final pin fell, Vanderbilt found itself just one short of Youngstown State’s total. 

Despite the 3-1 deficit, the Commodores rallied valiantly in game 5 with a 237-186 victory. Even then, Vanderbilt would need to carry two more games with no margin for error, and that proved too tall a task. By a margin of 37 pins, the Penguins took game 6 and finished off the Commodores 4-2.

“Once we lost to Youngstown, we sort of said that third place was going to be our championship,” Williamson said. “We couldn’t finish higher than that and we wanted to make that our championship.”

Williamson and Co. rallied accordingly and blitzed their next opponent, No. 11 Duquesne, by margins of 48, 39 and 34 pins in the opening three games of the series. After the Dukes clinched a slim 2-pin victory in game 4, the Commodores ended the nascent comeback attempt with a series-ending victory in game 5.

With a third-place finish on the line, Vanderbilt entered the final series of the weekend opposite another familiar opponent: Stephen F. Austin. After the Lumberjacks bested the Commodores on Friday, this was an opportunity to get even and finish ahead; and, from start to finish, it wasn’t clear who would come out on top.

The teams traded punches in the opening games as they tied the series 1-1 then 2-2. Vanderbilt looked exhausted as the team tallied a mere 166 pins in game 5, but the grueling schedule caught up with the Lumberjacks soon after as they totaled only 153 pins in game 6. With the series tied 3-3 and both sides looking worse for wear, the bronze medal would be decided in a winner-take-all game 7. Until it wasn’t.

As game 7 came to a close, the Commodores trailed Stephen F. Austin with only Peters remaining on deck. The Third Team All-American needed to strike on all three shots for Vanderbilt to come away with the win. She nailed the first. Then nailed the second. On the last shot, with a chance to win the game, she let the ball fly down the right side of the lane, curving left toward the middle at just the last second. It collided against the pins with force, knocking down each one until all laid on the ground — except one.

That one remaining pin kept the game tied 215-215. Dead even through seven games, the two sides would now embark on one last winner-take-all set of five frames to decide the victor.

Lindley walked up first for the Commodores and knocked down a strike, screaming triumphantly as she walked back to her teammates. The Lumberjacks converted a spare to keep it close, but Varano followed that up immediately with a strike of her own. Then Kailee Channell did the same. 

After the Lumberjacks settled for another spare, Vanderbilt found itself in a commanding position with two frames to go. Amanda Naujokas took that position and, with yet another strike, turned it into an insurmountable advantage. The Commodores would win the tiebreaker 126-85 and finish the tournament in third place.

“They did a pretty good job of rolling with [the punches] and making the best of it,” Williamson said. “It’s good to see as a coach. You always want to see your team compete at a high level.”

With individual awards calculated by traditional point averages, Peters came home with yet another piece of hardware courtesy of a second-place finish. The junior’s pin count of 1,199 was only 2 behind the winning total. Lindley also earned the first all-tournament team honors of her young career by finishing fourth individually with an average of 230.2 pins per-game.

Vanderbilt will be back in action at the MOTIV Ladyjack Classic in Kenosha, Wis. from Nov. 10-12. The Commodores have only two tournaments remaining in the fall semester.

Baker Match Scores:

Arkansas State defeats Vanderbilt 1,030-1,003

Vanderbilt defeats Tulane 1,037-975

Stephen F. Austin defeats Vanderbilt 1,065-998

Vanderbilt defeats Daemen 928-852

Vanderbilt defeats Monmouth 1,017-968

Traditional Match Scores:

Jacksonville State defeats Vanderbilt 1,043-1,014

Vanderbilt defeats Youngstown State 1,032-904

Vanderbilt defeats Delaware State 1,130-903

Vanderbilt defeats Alabama-Birmingham 1,166-1,056

Emmanuel defeats Vanderbilt 1,059-1,023

Baker Bracket Scores:

Youngstown State defeats Vanderbilt 4-2

Vanderbilt defeats Duquesne 4-1

Vanderbilt defeats Stephen F. Austin 4.5-3.5

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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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