April 11, 2010

By Dan Caldwell
Special to NCAA.com

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The NCAA Women's Bowling Championship was held in the Northeast for the first time in the event's seven-year history, and it was probably a positive development for an often overlooked sport that Fairleigh Dickinson, one of two teams from New Jersey in the eight-team competition, played in the title match, then won it.

"I wish they had gotten second," said Nebraska coach Bill Straub, whose team lost Saturday to Fairleigh Dickinson in a 2 1/2-hour match that went to a seventh game.

Fairleigh Dickinson, with eight New Jersey natives on its 11-woman roster, won its second national championship by defeating Nebraska, the defending national champion, on a riveting, back-and-forth night of bowling in which open frames - anything less than a strike or a spare - were virtually non-existent. It was a terrific night, and setting, for a championship match.

Although an official attendance was not released, estimated attendance in the makeshift gallery at Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes was more than 1,000 - or about as big a crowd as the 1,236 who watched the 2009 championship match in Canton, Mich., between Nebraska and Central Missouri. Both matches were carried live on ESPNU.

"What a privilege everyone here had tonight," FDU coach Mike LoPresti said. "This was, in my opinion, the best NCAA match ever."

Of course, LoPresti's team won that match, rallying from a three-games-to-two deficit with two nearly flawless games. And the atmosphere was charged by chanting from the stands, though it was a decidedly pro-FDU crowd, given the proximity of the school to the venue. But it was an exciting night for an intercollegiate sport that needs as much attention as it can get.

New Jersey City University, a Division III school in Jersey City, N.J., was the host of the three-day competition. The Gothic Knights finished in fourth place, the fourth time that they have finished fourth or better in the history of the NCAA Women's Bowling Championship. With two local teams, including the eventual winner in the field, the NCAA's decision to hold the tournament in New Jersey seemed like a smart choice.

"This is a big bowling area, not just central New Jersey, but New York and Pennsylvania as well," said Frank Parisi, the New Jersey City coach. "We had people who came from all over to support this tournament. This is just what I expected - standing-room only crowds, a media presence, and lot of excitement in general. This sport is very popular in this area, and people need to see what NCAA bowling at this level is all about."

When asked if he thought Fairleigh Dickinson had a home-alley advantage, Nebraska's Straub smiled and said, "Not if we had won." He did not want to use the venue's location, about 45 miles from the Fairleigh Dickinson campus in Teaneck, N.J., as a reason why the Cornhuskers lost to the Knights two times in two days - the second for the championship.

The FDU players said they got a boost. After the Knights fell behind in the championship match, LoPresti said to his players that he thought they would have to extend the match to a seventh game to have a psychological advantage on Nebraska, which had to beat Arkansas State earlier Saturday to play for the title.

Joely Carrillo, an FDU sophomore from Clifton, N.J., said, "This time, it was closer to home. Just knowing that and being in front of our family and friends was a huge advantage."

FDU did seem to catch a few breaks. After Nebraska had taken a three-games-to-two advantage by winning the fifth game, some water spilled in the area near the alley the Cornhuskers were using. A little water is not usually an athletic hindrance, but water prevents bowlers in non-tread shoes from sliding smoothly in their approach.

As the sixth game began, several players feverishly began wiping off their shoes. Some went to an adjacent lane to see if their shoes still had too much friction. Danielle van der Meer used a brush on the soles of her shoes. For a few moments, Straub and his players seemed to be distracted, perhaps even ruffled.

"Would it have changed if we won or lost? That's a long stretch," Straub said.

Nebraska did not win another game after the spill.

Although Fairleigh Dickinson had nothing to do with that, the mishap may have benefited the Knights. Even after falling behind on Saturday, 2-1 and 3-2, it became their night, at an 82-lane house not all that far from home.

"We only knew the breaks would were going to go our way if we threw our shots," FDU senior Erica Perez said.

And they did.