When T’nia Falbo proudly walked the Maryland Eastern Shore campus wearing a shirt trumpeting her team’s NCAA bowling championship, it begged the question from her fellow students:

“We have a bowling team?”

Maryland-Eastern Shore has won two of the past four national championships. They appear poised to take a run at a third in five years, but will have to get by plenty of worthy foes. Check out our season preview.
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NTCA Preseason Coaches’ Poll

Yes, you do. And a very good one.

UMES’ 2011 national title was its second in four seasons. Additionally, the Hawks became the first collegiate team to win the NCAA title (against Vanderbilt 4-2) and the United States Bowling Congress’ Intercollegiate Team Championship (over Lindenwood 2-1) in the same season.

Despite losing three key seniors, the National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) has ranked UMES No. 1 in its first poll of the 2011-12 season. It picked up 11 of 20 first place votes. The Hawks, which are the defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, are also picked to win the conference’s Northern Division.

For all that success, respect is hard earned with the bowling squad as the double champions learned.

“They don’t [realize the team’s success],” Falbo said.  “After we won last year, I had so many people -- while we were wearing our championship shirts around campus — come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know we had a bowling team!’ or ‘I saw you guys on ESPN!’ People respect when they actually see how hard it is.”

The men’s basketball team — the big dog on campus since UMES does not field a football team — found that when it accepted the challenge to compete against the women’s bowling team. 

“When they see these young ladies bowling and doing the things that they do, it build more respect for the sport, and the young ladies,” Sharon Brammell, UMES bowling coach, said. “They’re out there and they are in amazement when they see what it takes, what these young ladies are doing. Just the fact that they are throwing the 15-pound ball over and over again, by the end of the game, the boys are tired and the girls are still going. The guys are struggling just trying to keep the ball in the lane. It is a really funny kind of situation, but at the same time it builds respect for our sport.”

The preseason poll indicates the respect peers have for Brummell and her team despite them losing four-time All-America selections Kristina Frahm and Maria Rodriguez — last year’s National Player of the Year — and two-time All-America nod Martha Perez.  Those losses, though significant, are muted by the return of All-Americans Anggie Ramirez and Paula Vilas and Falbo.

“Right now, what I’m seeing from my team this year is that they are working very hard to still be as successful as they have been in the past,” Brummell said. “That’s all you can do from year to year. You never know who’s going to win until the day it happens. You know, ‘Any given Sunday.’

“I think I anticipate good things coming from this team. We’ve got a pretty good core with Anggie, Maria and T’nia coming back. And the newer young ladies, they’re young and have got some things to learn, but they’re working hard now. We may start off a little bit slow, but I expect by the time January gets here, we’ll be read to pour it on, and everybody should be ready by then.”

We are like a puzzle. We aren't complete and won't reach success if one of us is missing.
-- UMES bowler Anggie Ramirez

That challenge of being part of a team in transition is not too big for Ramirez. Ramirez, a Bogota, Columbia junior, who was selected third team All-American and first team All-MEAC, has been selected preseason Bowler of the Year and expects a lot of herself.

“I have grown a lot as an athlete since I got to UMES and I expect this year not to be the exception,” Ramirez said. “It’s a big recognition and I am really happy because I have always known hard work pays back and this is a proof of it.”

Additionally, Ramirez hopes her example, and that of those other returning players impacts this relatively young team.

“This year I feel the four girls that were on the team last year are the example for the four new freshmen we got,” Ramirez said. “Our team works as a whole and each one of us has a role and designated job in the team. So I just see myself as one part of this amazing team. We are like a puzzle. We aren't complete and won't reach success if one of us is missing.

“Our key to win the three championships [MEAC, ITC and NCAA] last year was hard work and letting the moment of competition show that preparation we had done. I think if we work at least as hard as we did last year [our goal is to work a lot harder] we can do some really good things. We lost three big players but our new teammates are very talented and with hard work we might be able to have some back-to-backs [titles].”