WICKLIFFE, Ohio -- Some would say that the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship really starts Friday, since that’s when teams start getting eliminated. Eighty tired bowlers and 16 fried coaches would tell you it surely started Thursday.

The eight best teams in the nation spent Thursday essentially beating each other up for little more than seeding in Friday’s double-elimination match-play round. In the end, no one ended the day dominant, nor did any team end the day out of contention.

FRIDAY'S FIRST FOUR MATCHES
No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. No. 8 Valparaiso
No. 2 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Central Missouri
No. 3 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. No. 6 Ark. State
No. 4 Sacred Heart vs. No. 5 UMES
Bracket
Block 2 Results: Team | Individual | Scoresheets

They all ended it tired.

Vanderbilt will take the top seed into Friday’s Baker style matches after compling a 5-2 record Thursday. Head coach John Williamson said the Commodores earned every bit of it.

“It’s brutal,” he said of Thursday’s seven-game format. “And that’s why we try to play everybody [on their roster]. If you try to [just play five players] and then try to make it through [Friday] and Saturday, I think you’re setting yourself up for failure.

“We try to pace ourselves and get everybody comfortable and then go from there.”

The Commodores, who were national runners-up in 2011 and won the national title in 2007 under Williamson, struggled through the morning block, averaging less than 200 for all three of their morning matches. In the afternoon session, they shot five-person scores of 1,018, 1,013 and 1,020.

“I think at the beginning we had a little bit of nerves,” Williamson said. “We try to approach this like any other event, but we’re not dumb. It’s qualifying for the national championship.”

Nervous, and maybe a bit rusty in places, the coach said.

“The first two games we had Sarah O’Brien and Nicole Mosesso, who have been injured most of the spring, so I thought it was important to get them into the game and going.”

In the end, though, Williamson said it was balance and positive thinking that got his team through.

“We played everyone in our lineup for [at least] two games,” he said. “I feel like we have one of the most balanced teams out there and our thought when we came in here today was that we were going to be positive about everything we did, whether we were the eight seed or the one seed.”

Brittni Hamilton led the Commodores with a seven-game average of 209.5 with a high game of 256. Valparaiso’s Natalie Cortese led Thursday’s individual standings, averaging 218.4 for seven games with a high score of 259.

Nebraska gets the second seed for Friday’s matches. The Huskers were perfect in the morning block, going 4-0 with nearly a 208 per player average, but lost all three of its matches in the afternoon session. Still, coach Bill Straub said Friday will tell the story, little by little.

“I try to keep the vision short,” Straub said. “You have wide vision, but then you have narrow vision -- one ball at a time.

WHAT THEY’RE FACING

The lane conditions the competitors are facing this weekend in Cleveland are challenging to say the least.

The pattern is 41 feet long (the lane is 60 feet) and has a 3.5:1 ratio of oil from its heaviest point in the middle of the lane to its lightest point near both gutters. A typical “house” or “league” pattern is usually 32-35 feet long with a 10:1 ratio of oil.

The difference is stark. Players have a much smaller margin of error since there is not as much “hold” created by a heavier concentration of oil in the center of the lane. The added length also means the ball likely will not hook as much. As the players continue bowling, the oil will be moved down the lane even further and, depending on the bowlers on each lane, the oil will also move from left to right with each bowled ball. The players that will succeed will be those who are able to make quick adjustments and stay on top of the transitions.

Fairleigh Dickinson is third, also at 4-3 with Sacred Heart in fourth with 4-3 and defending champ Maryland-Eastern Shore is fifth after going 3-4. Tie breakers are determined first by head-to-head record and then by total pinfall for the day.

The comeback story of the day is top-ranked Arkansas State, which went winless in Thursday morning’s block, but won all three of its matches in the afternoon to earn the No. 6 seed. Head coach Justin Kostick said a lineup change for the afternoon block made the difference.

“We cam out a little tight early and we got the lineup right in the afternoon,” he said. “Our team is pretty dynamic because we have three left-handed players [freshman Emily Troutman, sophomore Ashley Rucker and sophomore Amanda Labossiere] so we can change things around a lot. We played all three lefties during this night block and shot almost 100 over [a team average of about 206].”

Central Missouri is seventh, also at 3-4 and newcomer Valparaiso is the eight seed at 2-5.

All teams and coaches seemed to agree on one thing -- as demanding as Thursday was, Friday will be even more so.

Teams will compete in what’s called a Baker style. Simply put, rather than each bowler rolling a complete game, in Baker style a team combines for one game. The leadoff bowler for each team will bowl the first and sixth frames, the second bowler bowls the second and seventh and so on. Matches are best four out of seven. If you lose twice, you go home.

“The number and seed in this tournament does not matter at all,” Williamson said. “I mean it’s nice and we can write about it on the internet, but one seeds don’t fare well in this tournament. We’ll enjoy today and talk about it at dinner and we’ll have our meeting tonight and we’ll focus on [Friday] because [Thursday] means nothing.”

That said, Williamson has confidence that his team will perform well on Friday.

“To me, best four of seven Baker is what our A-game is,” Williamson said. “It’s what we’ve excelled at all year and so for us, it’s what we look forward to. We look forward to forcing opponents to make shots. I feel like when it comes down to it in any sport if you force a team to make plays, more often than not they won’t.

“We’re suited for it. We’re built for it. We love it,” he said.