GREENSBORO, N.C. – A solid second day of competition on Saturday propelled No. 10-ranked Norfolk State to Sunday’s championship match, where the Spartans swept Bethune-Cookman to capture their first MEAC Championship at Gate City Lanes.
Standing just 3-6 after Friday’s preliminary rounds, the Spartans regrouped on Saturday as the No. 4 seed in the double-elimination bracket round. NSU defeated No. 5 seed Hampton, No. 1 Delaware State and No. 6 Bethune-Cookman in successive matches to automatically earn a spot in the championship match on Sunday.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, took down defending MEAC and national champion UMES in the semifinals on Sunday after the loss to the Spartans the day before. B-CU was no match for the Spartans in the championship, though, as NSU won all four games of the best-of-seven match by at least 12 pins for the title.
“We talked about our play after the Friday matches, that we were not going to go out like that,” said head coach Wilhelmenia Harrison. “We knew we were a better team than that. We had to stay humble and understand that teams weren’t just going to lay down for us. We talked about what got us here, and then on Saturday we caught fire as soon as we stepped onto the lanes and carried that momentum all the way through to the championship.”
Sophomore Thea Aspiras was named the tournament’s Outstanding Performer after averaging 201.5 in four games during team play on Friday. Harrison earned Outstanding Coach honors as well.
Junior Lauren Graupmann earned a spot on the All-Tournament team along with Aspiras, T’Nia Falbo of UMES, Staci Hilliard of B-CU and Jazmyne Hefflefinger of Delaware State.
Seeded fourth on Saturday, NSU face No. 5 seed and rival Hampton in the first round. NSU won four of the five games, dropping the one by just two pins, to advance to play top seed Delaware State. The Spartans fell behind by a 3-1 margin against the Hornets before rallying to win three consecutive games. NSU topped DSU, 226-136, 193-138, and 211-198 to stay out of the loser’s bracket.
Bethune-Cookman won the first game against the Spartans in their match on Saturday afternoon, but NSU again responded by winning the next four games to take the victory, 4-1. The win allowed the Spartans to skip the early-morning semifinal round on Sunday and go straight to the championship match.
After Bethune-Cookman downed UMES 4-1 in the loser’s bracket early Sunday morning, the Wildcats earned a rematch with the Spartans needing to win two best-of-seven matches for the title. NSU had none of that, though, downing B-CU, 177-160, 209-168, 199-185 and 183-171 for the right to hoist the championship trophy.
The championship match will be broadcast tape-delayed on March 26 at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
“We were determined to play our game and stick to our plans,” said Harrison. “We knew we had to stay focused and keep our composure. It was a brand new ball game for them. We had to keep them calm and not let all the lights and cameras and interviews distract them. And we wanted to make sure they were having a good time.”
It marked NSU’s first appearance in the championship round, as well as the fifth MEAC championship of the school year for the athletic department following titles in football, men’s basketball, men’s cross country and men’s indoor track and field.
NSU limped out to a 1-3 record in team play to start the tournament off, falling to Delaware State 916-897, UMES 946-931, and Hampton 928-886. The Spartans finished with a 1037-908 victory against North Carolina Central, thanks to a 238 from Aspiras and a 226 from senior Chelsea Krall, to complete the first half of action on Friday.
Krall averaged 192.0 in all four team games Friday morning, while freshman Kelsea Yarbrough also averaged 192 in three games. Junior Jessica Overton posted a 184.3 average in three games, with Graupmann (180.0), freshman Carrie Hickey (179.0) and freshman Delilah Bethel (165.0) each bowling two games.
The latter half of the day saw NSU begin with two more losses, 753-688 to B-CU and 779-696 to Morgan State. After a win over Florida A&M, 746-654, the Spartans dropped another match to Delaware State, 884-667, before finishing up the first day of competition with an 837-784 victory against UMES and the No. 4 seed.