April 9, 2010

Feature: Cornhuskers Continue Tradition Of Internationally-Fed Bowlers

By Dan Caldwell
Special to NCAA.com

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Nebraska rebounded from a stunning loss to Fairleigh Dickinson early Friday to win two matches and stay in contention for a second consecutive NCAA women's bowling championship. Should the Cornhuskers beat Arkansas State on Saturday afternoon, a formidable foe awaits in the title match - Fairleigh Dickinson.

Despite only earning the No. 5 seed in qualifying Thursday among the eight teams in the tournament, the Knights (86-38) defeated Nebraska, the No. 1 seed, and New Jersey City University, their nearby archrival, to earn a place in the championship match Saturday night. Fairleigh Dickinson won the NCAA women's bowling championship in 2006.

"We've been preparing to get back there since the day after that event," said Michael LoPresti, who has coached Fairleigh Dickinson since the university, which is located 45 miles away in Teaneck, N.J., started an intercollegiate bowling program in 2002.

A senior from Carteret, N.J., High School named Erica Perez watched on television as Fairleigh Dickinson beat Alabama A&M for the national championship four years ago. Now Perez, a senior who grew up only about 20 miles from the Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes, site of the tournament, has a chance to lift the Knights to this group's first national championship.

"People looked at us and saw that we were the No. 5 seed, but we worked through it," Perez said.

Referring to herself and Nichole Toto, she added, "There are two seniors on the team and we are just battling through this. There is no next year. Whatever five bowlers we had out there today, we had full faith we could do it all."

Nebraska (71-26) will meet Arkansas State (79-39), the No. 2 seed, at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the right to meet Fairleigh Dickinson in the championship match. Nebraska has won three NCAA championships since 2004. Arkansas State lost to Maryland-Eastern Shore in the 2008 championship match, but qualified in eighth place a year ago and was quickly eliminated.

A best-of-seven format using the Baker system - in which a team's five bowlers rotate from frame to frame - determined winners and losers in the double-elimination tournament that began Friday and is to continue through the championship match, which is to be televised at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU and will be rebroadcast Sunday at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

Easily the biggest surprise of two morning rounds was Fairleigh Dickinson's 4-2 victory in a second-round match against Nebraska, which had gone undefeated and comfortably earned the top seed in the round-robin qualifying tournament Thursday. Fairleigh Dickinson knocked off New Jersey City in its first match, 4-2.

After Nebraska handily won the first game of the series, LoPresti said he made a decision for his five players to use lower-friction balls to get more length on their throws, as he explained it. He figured it was worth the gamble, because had it lost Fairleigh Dickinson would have trailed by only 2-0. But the Knights won the game, then three of the next four.

Central Missouri (86-44), which lost to Nebraska in the title match last year in Canton, Mich., was one of the first two teams to leave the double-elimination tournament. Central Missouri, seeded eighth after Thursday's grueling qualifying round, lost its first match Friday to Nebraska, 4-1, and its second match to No. 4 New Jersey City, 4.5-0.5.

"We came and gave an awful lot of effort with great energy," Central Missouri coach Ron Holmes said, "but we just couldn't make the shots we needed to make consistently."

Delaware State (98-36), the No. 7 seed, was also eliminated early Friday when it lost to No. 2 Arkansas State, 4-0, then to No. 3 Vanderbilt, 4-2. Vanderbilt fell into the loser's bracket after the Commodores were upset by No. 6 Maryland-Eastern Shore in their first match of the day, 4-3. Maryland-Eastern Shore lost its second-round match to Arkansas State.

The results set up tense afternoon elimination matches between Nebraska and Vanderbilt, and between New Jersey City, the No. 2 qualifier a year ago, and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Despite losing the first game of the series, Nebraska beat Vanderbilt (72-30), 4-1. New Jersey City eliminated Maryland-Eastern Shore (103-37), 4-1.

That set up yet another rematch between Fairleigh Dickinson and New Jersey City, which had met 10 times this season before Friday, with each team winning five matches.

Fairleigh Dickinson eliminated New Jersey City from the competition with a 4-2 victory. Meanwhile, Nebraska handed Arkansas State, which had won its first two matches, its first loss. A rematch awaits - then, if Nebraska wins, another rematch with Fairleigh Dickinson. (END)