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.

2023-24 Season Recap: Vanderbilt Bowling

This season’s Commodores didn’t find the same success as a year prior, but to call the season a loss would be a step too far.
Arianna Santiago
Vanderbilt Bowling hosts practice in November 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Arianna Santiago)

Mark Twain once said that comparison is the death of joy.

Comparing the 2023-2024 Vanderbilt Bowling season to its counterpart a year before is a recipe for disappointment. This season’s squad braced a cold streak to begin the spring, bowed out early in the Conference USA Championship Tournament and fell just short of reaching the Final Four. Most disappointingly, the team failed to successfully defend its status as the reigning national champion.

However, in the vacuum of a standalone campaign, it’s hard to call the season a failure. The team never fell below fifth in the national rankings, won the Warhawk Classic to open the season and got more than enough contributions from its freshmen to make the future look as bright as the past.

Comparisons aside, Vanderbilt Bowling’s 2023-2024 campaign was an up-and-down affair with a couple of highs and more than a few lows. For the first time in the careers of its senior class, the team finished the season without a conference or a national championship ring. Nevertheless, the Commodores were squarely in the championship conversation from the beginning until almost the very end.

“I wouldn’t call it a failure,” head coach John Williamson said. “You can say things are disappointing because we’ve had such a run of success, but this year that just seemed like it was an arm’s length out of reach.”

Sometimes the hardest obstacle to overcome is complacency about one’s own success. Other times, it’s the pressure that comes with defending that success in the first place.

“I felt like our girls competed the whole year,” Williamson said. “It was an interesting year because I felt like there was a pressure that I hadn’t really experienced in any of our other [seasons], but I felt like there was a pressure for getting back to the national championship and proving something.”

Another obstacle was trying to replace the two departing members of last season’s national championship squad. Mabel Cummins, the reigning National Player of the Year, graduated in the spring but stuck around as a graduate assistant. Regardless, assistants don’t get to play in games, and finding someone to replace what Cummins provided in the all-important anchor spot was always going to be difficult, if not impossible. To quote “Moneyball”, she would have to be recreated in the aggregate. 

Yet, it’s quite possible that Cummins, despite everything she brought to the table, wasn’t the hardest member to replace. That honor could arguably go to Amelia Kiefer — the glue that held the locker room together.

“I think the hardest part about losing [Kiefer] is that everything she provided was an intangible,” associate head coach Josie Barnes said. “It’s not something that I can just say ‘do this’ and all is fixed, and I think the girls really felt that.”

At times, the team was slow to start in the morning. Sometimes they didn’t seem locked in for elimination games. Towards the end of the season, they couldn’t seem to dig themselves out of the mental hole created by an untimely loss. All of that is where Kiefer’s presence would have been felt and where her absence was abundantly apparent.

“You can’t quantify it,” Barnes said of Kiefer’s impact. “Mabel [Cummins] was the easy one to point out, but Mel [Kiefer] was it.”

The team also had its fair share of pleasant surprises. After a sophomore season plagued by injury, former national Freshman of the Year Paige Peters bounced back to claim a First Team All-American selection. In a similar vein, junior Kailee Channell — after missing the entirety of last season with a hip labrum injury — emerged in the back half of the season as a consistent rotation player and contributor.

“I look at Kailee [Channell] and, if you look at her in the bowling world and what she does, there’s not a wow factor in the sense that her rave rate isn’t super high and she doesn’t create funky angles that draw people’s attention, but I truly believe that she is a bowler,” Barnes said. “She knows how to bowl and how to compete. I think she’s going to be key to the success of the team next year.”

Garnering a Second Team All-American selection was sophomore Victoria Varano, who last season nabbed a spot as an All-American Honorable Mention. The New York product and fellow sophomore Allysa Ballard will be an integral part of any Vanderbilt run back to the promised land in the next two seasons.

In perhaps the most important long-term development of the season, the Commodores’ freshman class proved to be just as lethal as those that came before it. Hailey Lindley of Greenwood, S.C. found herself almost immediately in the starting lineup and became Vanderbilt’s go-to anchor as the season went on. Lindley was subsequently awarded with both an All-American Honorable Mention and spot on the national All-Rookie Team. Natalie Kent of Newark, N.Y. played consistently throughout the season and looks poised to receive even more minutes next season as the team’s three seniors depart.

“I think you’ll see people celebrating [Lindley] for a while,” Barnes said. “As far as Natalie [Kent] goes, I think she’s going to be a player … Natalie is one of those kids that does something special that you can’t teach.”

With the end of the season also comes the end of the careers of the team’s three seniors: Jennifer Loredo, Amanda Naujokas and Caroline Thesier. One of the most accomplished classes in Vanderbilt history, the trio was present for the 2021 and 2022 Southland Bowling League Championships and the 2023 NCAA Championship. 

Though no title befell the team this season, Vanderbilt’s three seniors will be remembered for one of the most prolific runs in program history.

Leave a comment
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].
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