Momentum key for title contenders
Eight teams to vie for national championship starting Thursday
Bowling is one of those sports where momentum and confidence is key. Simply put, if you're not concerned about making mistakes, your swin has a tendancy to be much looser and you're much more apt to hit the target.
|AT A GLANCE|
Leader in the Clubhouse: Let's go with Nebraska here. The Huskers have won three national championships (the most of anyone) under head coach Bill Straub. Most importantly in this case, they won their most recent tournament, and it wasn't just any tournament, but the loaded Music City Classic hosted by Vanderbilt. In the match-play portion, the Huskers beat three of the current top-five ranked teams in the country.
If you're looking for long odds: This may be a bit of a contridiction, but top-ranked Arkansas State has only been in existance since 2004. While the Red Wolves are making their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, their overall record is 7-8. What's more, they're making their first appearance with the expectations that come with being ranked No. 1.
Don't sleep on this team: Sacred Heart may be ranked seventh, but the Pioneers come in with plenty of momentum after winning the NEC conference tournament while not dropping a match the entire weekend.
Plan on a lot of targets being hit at this week's NC Bowling Championship in Wickliffe, Ohio.
The team with the most momentum may be Arkansas State. For the first time in school history, the Red Wolves lead the NTCA Coaches' Poll. They also likely have had the most consistent season of the eight-team field that will hit the lanes on Thursday morning. The team finished no worse than third in all eight of the tournaments it competed in and captured tournament titles at the Big Red Invitational at Nebraska and the Holiday Classic at Bessmar, Ala.
“It is always an honor to be in the field,” ASU bowling coach Justin Kostick said. “It doesn’t matter if you are first or eighth in because the seeding is done after the first day of competition, but it was a little easier to sleep [the night before the selection] than in years past because in years past we have been on the bubble.”
Competition begins on Thursday with qualifying rounds in which each team bowls one five-person regular team game against each of the other seven teams participating in the championship for a total of seven games.
Teams will be seeded for bracket play based on their win-loss record during the qualifying rounds. Teams will then compete in best-of-seven-games Baker matches in a double elimination tournament.
In the Baker format, each of the five team members, in order, bowls a complete frame until a complete 10-frame game is completed.
Defending national champs Maryland-Eastern Shore will have a much different look than it had last season. The Hawks bring four freshmen to Ohio.
"I am so excited for my first NCAA Championship, this is a big reason I wanted to bowl here, to be the best," said one of those freshmen, Victoria Jones.
Kristina Frahm was a member of the UMES championship teams in 2008 and 2011. Now, as head coach, she has a unique perspective heading into the tournament.
"Now we have to work harder," she said. "It's always an honor to attend but we plan to do more than that, we plan on defending our championship."
As far as pure on-lane momentum, that has to be on the side of Sacred Heart, ranked No. 7 in the latest coaches' poll. The Pioneers rolled to victory in their last tournament, the NEC championship, going unbeaten for the weekend against competition that includes second-ranked Fairleigh Dickinson.
"Winning the NEC championship has been our goal from the start of our season," head coach Becky Kregling said. "They worked extremely hard, especially in the last month. It is nice to have that work and dedication pay off."
Speaking of the NEC, regular-season champs Fairleigh Dickinson will be giving teams headaches this week, as well. The knights took home five tournament titles during the season and compiled a staggering 104-27 record. They've made the NCAA tournament seven times in its eight years of existance and its seniors, Joely Carrillo and Meghan Kelly are making their fourth appearance.
Danielle McEwen, the 2010 NCAA tournament MOP, is also back for the Knights.
Perennial power Nebraska and veteran head coach Bill Straub look to be primed to make another long run. The Huskers won the final major regular-season tournament, the Music City Classic in Nashville last month. Nebraska entered the final round as the three-seed and was paired with four-seed FDU, winning that match 4-2. Nebraska then swept the two seed Central Missouri, 4-0 and defeated current No. 1 Arkansas State in the final 4-3.
Nebraska will be looking to earn its fourth NCAA championship since 2004. The Huskers last won the title in 2009, after winning two in a row in 2004-05. NU finished third in last season's championship.
Vanderbilt, last season's runner-up, may have the type of go-for-broke confidence that comes from relief. Despite winning three of nine tournaments during the season, the Commodores were not taking for granted that they would make the championship field.
"We have been fortunate to have enjoyed a lot of success over the years and sometimes it feels as though our fans take for granted that we will qualify. Every year there are more quality teams in this sport and every year it gets harder to make the championship field. We take nothing for granted. We have enjoyed a good season so far and appreciate the opportunity to bowl in Cleveland."
Senior Brittni Hamilton wowed the crowd at the Prairie View Classic earlier this season when she posted the first perfect game in school history. Still, the nerves got to her on selection day.
"I started thinking about this a week ago and thought I was doing OK," Hamilton, a three-time All-American said. "But a couple of hours before the announcement I came down with the anxiety symptoms. We did not take this for granted but we knew how much work we have put into this year."
No. 6 Valparaiso makes its ffirst NCAA tournament appearance in just its program's third year of existance and in just its first year with head coach Matt Nantais at the helm.
“When I interviewed for the coaching position last summer, I told the team that we were going to go to the national championship this year,” Nantais said. “After we started practicing and bowled our first tournament of the year and the bowlers saw how they were able to bowl together as a true team, I think it changed the team’s outlook and made them believe that they could get to the championship.
"They’ve bought into the system and have worked hard to get to this point, and we look forward to focusing and taking this tournament just like every other one this season.”