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Vanderbilt Bowling hopeful for future after coming up just short in NCAA Championship

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Vanderbilt Bowling hopeful for future after coming up just short in NCAA Championship

Photo via Vanderbilt Athletics

Photo via Vanderbilt Athletics

Photo via Vanderbilt Athletics

Photo via Vanderbilt Athletics

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

One year ago, Vanderbilt Bowling overcame multiple hurdles to make the NCAA Championship match, and won it in dramatic fashion.

The 2019 Vanderbilt Bowling team made another run against the odds in the NCAA Tournament, only this time, magic seemed to run out a few frames too soon.

The Commodores fell 4-1 to the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks in the NCAA Championship match on Saturday night, ending what was a gritty and hard-fought run back to the title match. Coming into the tournament as the top seed, Vanderbilt lost its first round match, but climbed back in the loser’s bracket and made it all the way to the championship match.

Even with the odds stacked against them, the Commodores pulled off another dramatic run, which was a remarkable feat in and of itself.

“I think it showed a lot of resolve from the group, primarily having the disappointment to start and sort of the expectation going in that we had,” Head Coach John Williamson said. “We had very lofty expectations, and it’s pretty easy when you have a long sort of format like we do, when you lose round one, I think it’s pretty easy to sort of say ‘there goes our chance.’ But we have a lot of veterans on the team and some pretty good senior leadership in Jordan [Newham] and Kristen [Quah], and they were able to grind it out and we were able to beat some pretty good teams in the losers bracket to get the opportunity to bowl in the final. I’m disappointed with how it ended, but if you had told me that that’s how it would have gone at the beginning of the week, I probably would have said I’d take it, just because of how it shook out.”

In the championship round, Vanderbilt started with a win to go up 1-0 in the best-of-seven match. But from there, the wheels fell off, as the Commodores couldn’t get comfortable with the bright lights and cameras on them, while the Ladyjacks rattled off strike after strike, burying the Commodores in the next four games to win the trophy.

That type of dominant performance in the next lane over put even more pressure on Vanderbilt, and it contributed to the collapse.

“Our first game was ugly, and our second game started ugly, and they sort of settled in,” Williamson said. “It became a thing of as they got more settled in, we weren’t very comfortable to begin with and then we got less comfortable because we saw how comfortable they were getting, and then we tried to force things, which then made us more uncomfortable and more anxious.

“We were sort of sitting in the mud spinning our tires, and we’ve had it happen the other way where we’ve been in matches and the other team has done that, you see that and there’s no pressure because you know the other team is lost. We were just in our minds and we couldn’t get out of it. Stephen F. Austin, to their credit, they relaxed and made some quality shots and put all the pressure in the world on us and we just picked a bad night to be average.”

One senior on the team, Kristen Quah, had been battling an injury all spring, but kept at it and played through it in the championship match against Stephen F. Austin. While she was subbed out late in the match, she made a couple of key shots for the Commodores.

That resiliency and dedication speaks to how the senior class of Quah and Jordan Newham strengthened the attitudes and levels of responsibility on the team in their four years. Along the way, the pair picked up a third-place finish in 2017, a second-place finish this season and a championship in 2018.

“I think the thing that they’ve helped do is they’ve done a really good job of helping to establish a level of accountability from player to player that we hadn’t had in a really long time, if ever,” Williamson said. “I give them a lot of credit because they were the people leading the charge in ‘hey, you need to get your stuff done, hey you need to do this.’ We went from having a lot of two players talking about a third player, to having more of just one-on-one conversations and direct conversations. I give them the credit for that, and I think that we are a better team and a better group of people because we’re willing and able to have uncomfortable conversations with each other and not take things personally.”

With only those two bowlers graduating, and a large core returning, including NCAA Player of the Year Maria Bulanova, Williamson has full faith that the Commodores can get back to the pinnacle of collegiate bowling.

“I think that’s sort of the expectation that we have in our program,” Williamson said. “It’s a turnstile of people in the sense that every year, people graduate and every year we bring people in. We sort of start every year with the expectation that we will be competing in April for the opportunity to win a national championship. Hopefully, we can get back to a Saturday night performance and maybe do a little bit better than we did this time.”

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About the Writer
Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Cutler Klein ('19) is the Sports Editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler. He previously served as Assistant Sports Editor. He is majoring in Communication Studies...

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