April 8, 2010

By Dan Caldwell

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Nebraska, the defending champion, won all seven of its qualifying matches Thursday to easily claim the No. 1 seed among eight teams participating in the three-day NCAA Women's Bowling Championships at the Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes.

The Cornhuskers (68-25), who have won three of six championships since the NCAA started the competition in 2004, rolled what is believed to be the highest single-game score in tournament history by winning its third match Thursday against Arkansas State, 1,173-953.

Arkansas State (77-38) won five of seven games to take the second seed for the double-elimination tournament, which is to begin Friday. Vanderbilt (71-28) was third, followed by New Jersey City University (76-44), the host team in the championships.

Although Nebraska knocked over 359 more pins than any of the other seven teams in the tournament, the Cornhuskers did not roll over all of its opponents, an indication that a second straight NCAA championship will not be automatic for Nebraska.

"I am exhausted," said Valerie Calberry, a sophomore who was Nebraska's top bowler Thursday with 1,492 pins in seven games. "But our team chemistry was amazing. We were just there for each other all day. The people on the team who weren't bowling was just as much into it as we were."

This was the most demanding day of the bowling championships. The eight participating schools, each with five bowlers, took part in a round-robin tournament that began at 9:30 a.m. and ended after 7 p.m., with a two-hour break in the afternoon for lane conditioning and practice.

By the late afternoon session, the temporary bleachers in the back of the lanes were packed with fans. Timely strikes were met with bursts of cheers and applause. The line for pizza was short; everyone was tuned into the action.

"These are the best eight teams in the country, so you're going to see good scoring," said New Jersey City University coach Frank Parisi. "Good players adjust to the oil pattern as the day goes along, so you're going to see high scores."

The eight teams were seeded by their won-loss records in the round-robin tournament, with a double-elimination tournament scheduled to begin Friday at 9:30 a.m. The Baker format will be used Friday and Saturday, in which a team's five bowlers rotate frames.

The second round of the double-elimination tournament is set for 11:20 a.m., with the third round at 5:20 p.m. The championship match, to be held Saturday at 8:30 p.m., will carried live on ESPNU, with a repeat on ESPN at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Cornhuskers quickly established themselves as frontrunners in the qualifying rounds, comfortably winning its first four matches against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State and New Jersey City.

"We just want to continue to display a calm, workmanlike attitude," Nebraska coach Bill Straub said after the first four matches. "It doesn't matter whether we won or lost the first four games. It's got to be one ball at a time if we want to be successful."

Nebraska's Danielle van der Meer, a sophomore from Hilversum, The Netherlands, bowled a 258 against Vanderbilt after a 156 in the match against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Calberry, from Brampton, Ont., rolled a 280 in the Huskers' victory over Arkansas State.

The Gothic Knights finished second to Nebraska in the qualifying round-robin last year but did not offer much of a challenge in match play this year, falling to the Cornhuskers, 1,109-939. Nebraska won its fifth game against Fairleigh Dickinson, also of New Jersey, 1,071-1,006.

Because New Jersey City had lost its opening match to Central Missouri, and because Arkansas State and Vanderbilt had also lost two of their first five matches, Nebraska secured the top seed in its sixth match by defeating Central Missouri, 975-964.

Arkansas State's Samantha Santoro, a sophomore from Reinholds, Pa., bowled a 290 in the team's first match against Delaware State. But Arkansas State lost later to Nebraska, then fell to New Jersey City in its fourth match. Santoro had the best individual pinfall, a 1,547.

"It's funny, because I didn't feel that good in practice," Santoro said. "I wasn't hitting my mark very often, but once we got going, I kind of felt good right after the first frame. I always want to bowl well all year, but coming to Nationals, this is where I want to be at my best."

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