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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 falls one pin short of gold, finishes second at MOTIV Ladyjack Classic

A furious comeback, three ties and a single pin defined Vanderbilt’s trip to Kenosha, Wisc.
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Arianna Santiago
Alyssa Ballard practices for the MOTIV Ladyjack Classic. (Hustler Multimedia/Arianna Santiago)

For the second time in the last month, No. 1 Vanderbilt Bowling traveled to Wisconsin —  this time for the MOTIV Ladyjack Classic in Kenosha. After placing second in the competition last season, the Commodores were even more motivated than usual to take home tournament gold. They came one pin short.

“We never lost a sense of hope,” sophomore Victoria Varano said. “Obviously, some things don’t work in your favor, but it was never in doubt that we were going to be neck-and-neck.”

With a crowded field of 16 teams, the tournament was organized in the standard format of five Baker matches on Friday, five traditional matches on Saturday and Baker bracket play on Sunday. Among the attendees were six other top-10 ranked programs: No. 2 Arkansas State, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 5 Stephen F. Austin, No. 6 Youngstown State, No. 7 Jacksonville State and No. 9 Maryville.

Vanderbilt faced two of these foes — Maryville and Stephen F. Austin — on opening day. After beating No. 22 Tulane and No. 20 Wisconsin-Whitewater in the first two matches, the Commodores squared off against the Saints for the first time this season. 

After a sluggish start in game 1 of the five-game match, the Commodores’ offense sunk further into the mud in game 2 as the team failed to record any consecutive strikes. Better performances in games 3 and 4 failed to narrow the gap; and, by the start of game 5, Vanderbilt found itself down by a significant 50-pin margin.

Freshman Haley Lindley opened with a spare before Kailee Channell landed Vanderbilt’s first strike of the final game. After Caroline Thesier spared in frame 3, it appeared the Commodores would be dropping their first match of the tournament.

But then Varano striked. Then Paige Peters. Vanderbilt rallied off four more strikes in a row before the ball came back to Peters for the final frame. She landed the first strike. Then the second. Then the third.

Vanderbilt would throw nine straight strikes to end the game with a score of 270 pins to Maryville’s 215. By a mere five pins, the Commodores would walk away from the match with a still unblemished record.

Vanderbilt would easily best Aurora before facing conference rival Stephen F. Austin in the final Baker match. After a day full of 1,000-plus pin games, the Commodores ran out of gas against a Ladyjacks squad that was still at the top of its game. Without the heroics of the earlier comeback, Vanderbilt would fall 1,042-937 and end the day in fourth place with a 4-1 record.

With an opening match against Jacksonville State, the Commodores found themselves right back in the middle of the action as Saturday’s traditional matches began. Head coach John Williamson opted for a lineup of Alyssa Ballard, Lindley, Peters, Thesier and Varano to face off against a Gamecocks program in its first season competing in collegiate bowling.

A dynamo through the first two competitions of the year, Peters faltered in the traditional match with an uncharacteristic 178 pins. Despite every other Commodore finishing above 200, including a team-leading 236 for Varano, Vanderbilt found itself down 40 pins as the match drew to a close. It may be the first year for Jacksonville State as a program, but many of its players — and its coach — are old faces in the sport from their time at traditional powerhouse McKendree.

Vanderbilt rolled through its four remaining matches of the day, most notably a 1,119-1,086 victory over Arkansas State. After losing to the Red Wolves two weeks ago, the Commodores evened the season series 1-1 behind 256 from Varano and 255 from Lindley.

Through Saturday’s five traditional games, Varano led the team with an average of 210 pins per-game that saw her place just outside the tournament’s top 10 individual averages. Fellow sophomore Alyssa Ballard was next up for the Commodores with 208.2 pins per-game, followed closely by Lindley with 205.8.

With a team average of 204.8 pins per-game through both Friday and Saturday’s matches, Vanderbilt entered bracket play in fourth place behind Jacksonville State, Nebraska and Arkansas State. In Sunday’s opening Baker best-of-seven series, the Commodores would find themselves opposite the Red Wolves once again.

For most of Sunday, Williamson chose to ride with a young lineup of Lindley, Ballard, Natalie Kent, Varano and Peters. With two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior, Vanderbilt’s starters may not have been as experienced as those of Arkansas State, but what they lacked in years they made up for in talent.

“We all have your back,” Varano said was her message to the freshmen. “On a team, you have five other girls that are always going to be ready to pick you up.”

The Commodores took the first two games of the series by convincing margins of 29 and 28, respectively. After the Red Wolves caught fire in game 3 with 242 pins, Vanderbilt bounced back with a scorching performance of its own to win game 4 243-226. With a 3-1 series lead, the Commodores could afford a narrow 238-236 loss in game 5 before locking in for a narrow series-clinching victory in game 7.

In the second game of bracket play, Vanderbilt faced off against perennial powerhouse Nebraska for the first time this season. The Commodores wasted no time in getting acquainted with their opponents from the Midwest and took a commanding 3-0 lead following the first three games — including a near-perfect 290-pin performance in game 3. 

Two Vanderbilt opens in game 4 were enough to allow Nebraska to get on the board, while another three in game 5 sunk the Commodore’s point total to a dismal 156. The Commodores bounced back in game 6 with a total of 203 pins, but the Cornhuskers managed just enough to even the series 3-3. Just like that, Vanderbilt had gone from a finals shoe-in to a team on the brink of collapse.

“We as a team just needed to come back together and say look, we had this in our control and we’re not letting it slip away,” Varano said. “We’re going to do this right now. Two good shots a piece and we’re done.”

Lindley opened game 7 for Vanderbilt with a timely strike followed by a Ballard spare and another Kent strike. Nebraska matched Vanderbilt through the first three frames but suffered an untimely open in the fourth. With Varano landing a spare, the Commodores would find themselves with a narrow lead.

After another Nebraska open in frame 5 and a classic Peters strike, the lead would expand. By the time the Cornhuskers got back up on their feet, Vanderbilt was closing out the game with three strikes and a spare. The Commodores, minutes ago on the edge of a chasm, had clawed their way back to safe ground. On to the finals they would go.

“[It’s like] the last three outs in a baseball game, or the last two minutes of a basketball game,” Williamson said. “Those are the longest, hardest parts of the game. It’s no different from any other part of the game, but for some reason at the very end of the game it’s very hard to knock it down.”

Having clinched the top seed entering Sunday and bested Nebraska 4-1, Jacksonville State awaited Vanderbilt at the end of the bracket. The Commodores let them have it early, throwing eight consecutive strikes in game 1 en route to a staggering 269-155 victory.

After absorbing the first punch, the Gamecocks got up off the mat and played Vanderbilt down to the wire in game 2. Two strikes in the tenth frame let Jacksonville State tie the Commodores 192-192 in a bowling rarity. Getting the same score in a game with 300 possible points is quite difficult. The Gamecocks were not done doing the improbable.

Lindley opened with another strike and the Commodores led the way through a low-scoring game 3. Jacksonville State took a quick lead in the ensuing game and appeared to have it wrapped up before three Vanderbilt strikes brought it back to even. Dead even. The teams would tie their second game in four tries, and the Commodores would take a 2.5-0.5 lead.

Calculating the odds of two ties, given that each score in bowling is not equally likely, would require heavy statistical knowledge. To approximate, it’s nearly impossible. Even closer to impossible is doing it three times in five tries. And yet, as fate would have it, that’s what happened in game 5.

With a final score of 183-183, Vanderbilt took an unorthodox 3.5-1.5 lead through five games. One more victory would secure the championship of the Ladyjack Classic after having come so close last season. It was not to be. The Commodores managed only 142 points in game 6, then 173 in game 7. That forced a winner-take-all half-game of frames 6-10.

It looked over for Vanderbilt as the do-or-die scenario began. An open followed by a spare put the Commodores in an early hole, but four straight strikes put the team right back in it. With Peters stepping up to the lanes for her third and final shot, Vanderbilt needed a strike to win the game, the series and the tournament.

The ball rolled off Peters’ hand right down the lane and arrived almost perfectly in the strike zone. Almost. One single pin remained standing, and the final score read 118-117 Jacksonville State. After tying three games in seven tries, the Commodores would be sent home by a single pin.

“I don’t think we’ve ever tied a team two times in a best-of-seven, let alone three times with a chance to tie a fourth,” Williamson said.

The team largely echoed the coaching staff.

“I’ve only been here for a year and three tournaments, but it’s probably one of the crazier matches that I’ve ever been part of,” Varano said. “It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced.”

Vanderbilt will be back in action for their final tournament of the fall semester at the Hawk Classic in Woodbridge, Va. from Nov. 17-19. The Commodores finished as the runner-up at the competition last season behind North Carolina A&T.

Baker Match Scores:

Vanderbilt defeats Tulane 1,007-910

Vanderbilt defeats Wisconsin-Whitewater 1,083-897

Vanderbilt defeats Maryville 1,043-1,038

Vanderbilt defeats Aurora 1,009-874

Stephen F. Austin defeats Vanderbilt 1,042-937

Traditional Match Scores:

Jacksonville State defeats Vanderbilt 1,096-1,056

Vanderbilt defeats Lewis 953-860

Vanderbilt defeats Arkansas State 1,119-1,086

Vanderbilt defeats Valparaiso 993-900

Vanderbilt defeats Marian 981-914

Baker Bracket Scores:

Vanderbilt defeats Arkansas State 4-2

Vanderbilt defeats Nebraska 4-3

Jacksonville State defeats Vanderbilt 4.5-3.5

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About the Contributors
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]
Arianna Santiago
Arianna Santiago, Senior Staff Photographer
Arianna Santiago ('24) is from Bremerton, Wash., and studying electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering. When not shooting for The Hustler or for freelance work, Arianna can be found leading campus tours, organizing events for University Catholic, attempting to study and procrastinating her lab reports. You can reach her at [email protected].

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