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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.

Human and Champion: Getting to know Amanda Naujokas

Having accumulated a resume nigh-unparalleled in the history of Vanderbilt Athletics, Amanda Naujokas’ status as a figure is secured. But, what is her legacy as a human?
Lexie Perez
Amanda Naujokas has been a staple of Vanderbilt Bowling for four years. Now preparing to graduate, the senior reflects on her time in Nashville. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)

It can be said that every person is, in fact, two people: the figure and the human. The figure is what a person is known as to the world. It is their reputation, their legacy and the amalgamation of all the world’s projections onto them. The figure is, for all intents and purposes, a character.

The problem with unremarkable people is that their status as a figure is truly lacking. The problem with the most remarkable people is that we forget, nestled in the shell of the figure, there too resides a human.

Every great figure of history was also a human. So, too, are our modern celebrities. In neglecting to perceive this inward facet of the figure, we fail to recognize half of the narrative written into the life of every human being.

The figure of Amanda Naujokas is well known. Adorned with three rings — two for the 2021 and 2022 Southland Bowling League titles; one for the 2023 NCAA Championship — Naujokas is one of the most successful student-athletes in the history of Vanderbilt Athletics.

But, who is Naujokas the human?

“I want to help people,” Naujokas told The Hustler. “That’s why I thought I wanted to be a teacher.”

In many ways, Naujokas is just like any other Vanderbilt student. The Long Island, N.Y. product began her college journey in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting from being locked down at home with her family to being locked alone in a dorm room 1,000 miles away. 

“I remember coming to school. My mom dropped me off,” Naujokas said. “She gave me cleaning supplies and was like ‘ok, Amanda, make sure you do all this. Don’t get COVID.”

Like for so many others, the precautions were not enough.

“It was the first round of asynchronous testing, and I actually came up positive,” Naujokas said. “So, I went into quarantine and basically sent the entire team in. Then, second semester, I was a false positive.”

There was, at least, one silver lining to the abnormality of the first year. Kept under tight restrictions on gatherings and interactions, Naujokas found herself becoming increasingly acquainted with the only people permitted to be in close proximity: her two fellow teammates in the class of 2024. 

“Jen [Loredo], Caroline [Thesier] and I got super close because we couldn’t really hang out with any of our other teammates,” Naujokas said. “So, a positive from COVID was getting really close with the people in my class and creating some good memories in our room that we couldn’t leave.”

Three years later, with all three having concluded their collegiate careers, the bond remains just as strong as it did on Commons. Remembered by the world for what they accomplished, the trio will remember each other by what they did to liven up those most boring days of isolation.

“One of the things to me that [Naujokas] has provided this team is a sense of humor about ourselves,” associate head coach Josie Barnes said. “There are times where we get so ahead of ourselves and so into the moment, and it’s really not that serious. She was able to provide that [sense].”

That’s not to say that her contributions came in the form of intangibles.

“Even when it doesn’t look like the conditions are optimal for her, she finds a way to get it done,” Barnes said. “She [always] knew what we needed and how to get it done. She didn’t start [the national championship], but we couldn’t have done what we did without her in that position.”

Coming off the bench in place of Alyssa Ballard for the third game of the seven-game national championship series, Naujokas hit a strike in her first step up to the lane and remained in the lineup as Vanderbilt went on to complete the first 3-1 comeback in NCAA Bowling Championship history.

“My proudest moment was last year during the national championship,” Naujokas said. “I was just proud of myself for coming in during the match when we were down and just filling my frames and doing my job to help us win.”

The moment reflects beautifully on Naujokas the figure, but Naujokas the human will be remembered differently by those around her.

“The thing that she has learned that I’m most proud of doesn’t even have to do with fundamental bowling things, but really [is] how to advocate for herself,” Barnes said. “Coming into a team that’s really solid top to bottom, you can get lost in the mix if you don’t speak up.”

At the beginning of her career, Naujokas did find herself temporarily lost amid the mix of all-american talent present on Vanderbilt’s roster. That changed at the Kat Klash in November of 2020, where then-freshman Naujokas finished tied for fourth in the tournament’s individual standings. From then on, the Long Islander remained a staple of the rotation.

“It took us a long time to realize that we just needed to give her an opportunity to figure it out when it counts,” head coach John Williamson said. “There’s people that look good in practice and there’s people that look good in the game. When the lights would come on, she was always pretty steady.”

The class of 2024 will always be remembered for the trophies it collected and the wins it tallied, but Naujokas will also be recalled for just how easy she made it for everyone else around her.

“The thing that Amanda’s been able to do that I find pretty remarkable is she’s extremely consistent,” Williamson said. “Day in and day out you know what you’re going to get and how she’s going to act.”

Even in the lowest of moments, on and off the lanes, life’s troubles never seemed to bother Naujokas. At least, not enough to affect her performance with a ball in her hand.

“She doesn’t let situations dictate her emotions,” Williamson said. “She’s been very steady for us as a group. She’s been somebody that we rely on if we need something to happen. Nothing’s too big for her.”

Among the lowest moments of Naujokas’ collegiate career came in her sophomore year. Stepping up to the lanes on the first day of the 2021 Dezy Strong Classic, hosted at her home center on Long Island, N.Y., Naujokas suffered a groin strain as she went about her throwing motion. Then on, week after week, every throw of the ball brought with it a conscious fear of aggravating the injury, or worse.

“Even as it was getting better, my mental thought was, ‘Oh my god, every single time you shoot a spare, you’re going to pull your groin again,” Naujokas said. “That was kind of the lowest point, trying to mentally get over that hurdle.” 

Eventually, after enough successful spares were completed without suffering the same fate, Naujoaks regained confidence in her throw and herself. At that point, with the world and the university beginning to open back up, life began to look up for the sophomore.

“The first thing I remember [after COVID-19] is walking into the classroom without a mask and, I’m like, ‘this is kind of weird,’” Naujokas said. “This is kind of weird, actually seeing everybody’s face, and not seeing everybody either behind a computer screen or sitting in class with a mask on.”

Strip away the athlete parts of Naujokas’ time in college, and the student part looks remarkably similar to what one might call the typical Vanderbilt experience. In fact, like so many others, she even wound up changing her major.

“Coming into Vandy, I was an elementary [education] and [human and organizational development] major,” Naujokas said. “Then, two or three semesters in, I was taking a bunch of education classes, and I [was] like, ‘I don’t think education is my calling.”

Wanting to hold on to HOD, but not wanting to major in it alone, the sophomore Naujokas swapped out elementary education for child studies. The rest is history.

Between the two majors, Naujokas has found a lot of classes to like and a lot to dislike. Public policy, gender in leadership and organizational change — the list goes on. Like every other HOD major, Naujokas also had to complete a capstone project. Unlike most others, she had to balance it with her responsibilities as an athlete.

“I did [capstone] with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in their business enterprise resource office,” Naujokas said. “I know, it’s a mouthful.”

Investigating Tennessee’s disaster relief program and finding ways to aid businesses in the wake of destruction, Naujokas found a calling for assisting community enterprises get back on their feet. Perhaps, as her time in college now elapses, that is where she will next find herself.

Never again will Naujokas bowl for the Black and Gold, but her memory will live on in the program as both an accomplished figure and an admirable human.

Asked for a piece of advice to future bowlers, or any future Vanderbilt students in general, Naujokas kept it simple — and characteristically optimistic.

“You can be successful at Vanderbilt,” Naujokas said. “Make sure you use the resources, especially the ones that Athletics gives you, and honestly just enjoy your time. I know everybody says it goes by fast, but the time really does go by fast.”

The time has fast come for Naujokas, as it shall eventually come for all Vanderbilt students. Despite all the differences between us and Naujokas the figure, there is still much we can learn from Naujokas the human.

“Just live life to the fullest,” Naujokas said.

As figure and human, Naujokas’ life has been lived to the fullest indeed. She is, after all, a national champion — and a natural teammate.

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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]
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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