NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- The Garden State was fertile ground for a team from Texas on Thursday.

Sam Houston State topped the eight-participant field by winning four of five preliminary round matches during the opening day of the 2016 NCAA Bowling Championship at BrunswickZone Carolier Lanes.

“We were looking to start solidly and gain some information [on lane play] during the first couple matches,” said SHSU head coach Brad Hagen. “We’ve been health-stricken at times this season, so we wanted to use this first day to build some momentum mentally.”

The Bearkats still have ways to go if they hope to repeat the feat they accomplished in 2014 when they captured the national crown in Wickliffe, Ohio.

Unfolding in New Jersey for the second time in event history, and hosted by the Somerset-headquartered Northeast Conference, the 2016 NCAA Championship will play out over three days.

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Nebraska looks to defend the NCAA title it won last April in St. Louis. The Huskers, who fell to Fairleigh Dickinson in the 2010 championship final at Carolier Lanes, own a record five national crowns.

In addition to Nebraska and SHSU, Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas State, Central Missouri and Vanderbilt return from last year's field. McKendree and North Carolina A&T are contesting the event for the first time in program history.

After two more rounds of preliminary round play on Friday morning, the tournament format will move to double-elimination championship bracket play in the afternoon. The results from preliminary round competition will determine the bracket’s seeding.

The 2016 NCAA Championship Final is set for Saturday, April 16 at 6:30 pm ET and will air live on ESPNU.