Battle of unbeatens on tap
Vanderbilt, Nebraska to battle for title after tough semi wins
CANTON, Mich. -- To look at the 3-0 records Nebraska and Vanderbilt put up Friday in the Baker-style match-play portion of the NC Bowling Championship, you may think that both teams had easy roads to Saturday's national title match.
Hardly. It's safe to say that both teams will enter the final supremely battle-tested.
"I'm sure not regrowing hair," Nebraska head coach Bill Straub said.
Vanderbilt went seven games in Friday's last match to oust two-time defending national champion Maryland-Eastern Shore in what's already being called one of the most exciting matches in the 10-year history of the championship. In the 10th frame of Game 7, T'Nia Falbo, who threw the clinching shot in last year's national championship game, needed a strike on the final ball of regulation to send the match to a roll-off. However, a ringing 10-pin ended the match and UMES' season.
Vanderbilt, which lost in an if-necessary match last year to UMES, will appear in its third national championship match. The Commodores won in 2007 and lost to UMES in the '11 title match.
However, head coach John Williamson is quick to point out that this year's team is markedly different than the other two.
"We've got four underclassmen starting," he said. "We've had kind of an up-and-down year and we don't really know what we're going to get each day. The way they came out and performed [Friday], I couldn't be more proud."
Nebraska's match didn't go seven games -- the Huskers defeated Arkansas State 3-1 -- but at times it seemed just as tough. Strikes were difficult to come by for both teams, but the match turned on a bit of an unusual strike. In the match's fifth game, Kristina Mickelson hit light in the pocket in the ninth frame and got the 7-pin to fall very late -- after a little bit of encouragement from Mickelson.
"I was screaming, 'Gimme one, gimme one,' " Mickelson said. "That's my only strike for that match. I threw shot after shot after shot after shot. I was doing what I wanted to do and they wouldn't fall, but that one felt particularly good -- and it fell."
After the high of Friday night's victories, both teams will have plenty of time to savor them. Saturday night's final is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET, giving both coaches a bit of a challenge. Do you spend the day preparing, or trying to keep your team as far away from the lanes as possible so that they're fresh?
Straub plans to do a little of both.
"The only thing we're going to do as far as the event, at all, is we're gonna go through a couple of little drills to try to help relative calmness," Straub said. "We need to give ourselves the best opportunity to do the best job we can in a real pressurized situation.
"It's not re-learn how to bowl," he said. "It's not how to make things better inner-personally. It's whether or not you've got pretty good control of your emotions."
For Vandy's part, Williamson said his team will try to think as little as possible about the impending match.
"We're going to try to keep their mind off of what is going to happen," he said. "We're gonna basically treat it like any other day except we usually don't wait until 8 o'clock at night to bowl."
Both teams are underclassmen-laden, so experience under the lights of television will be in short supply. Each team has a senior leader who has bowled in a national final and both say they'll do what they can to make sure the learning curve isn't too steep when the lights go on Saturday night.
For Nebraska, it's Mickelson, who'll be making her third national television appearance.
"Mostly, it's all about the lane plays differently, because it's on the other side of the house, which hasn't had the oil pattern on it yet -- and the TV lights make everything different," Mickelson said.
"We'll stand where we've stood all week and do everything right -- and it will make a terrible leave. We just have to know not to get bothered too much by it."
Vanderbilt's senior leadership comes from Jessica Earnest, who was part of the national runner-up team in 2011. She also threw three strikes in the 10th frame of her team's second game Friday against UMES to give the Commodores a 203-202 win to even the match at one game apiece.
"We just need to give it a chance," she said. "TV is a different animal, but if we keep doing what we've been doing, we've been bowling phenomenal, we're gonna be fine -- win, lose or draw."