bowling-nc flag | November 7, 2013

Bowling: Defending champs to make season debut

Beth Hedley and Nebraska lead a stellar field in this weekend's Crusader Classic at Valparaiso.

In its first appearance since winning the national championship in April, an ever-so-slightly retooled Nebraska squad leads a talent-laden field into Valparaiso this weekend for the Crusader Classic.

The Huskers return four starters from the national championship team, including All-American and Junior Team USA member Liz Kuhlkin, as they begin their chase a fifth national title.Kuhlkin returns as one of the top bowlers in the country after recording a team-high 214.9 average in her sophomore season.

They'll get an early litmus test this weekend, as the nation's top four teams and seven of the country's top nine teams will share the lanes with them at Valparaiso. Second-ranked Vanderbilt will look to rebound from a sixth-place finish in last weekend's New Jersey Jamboree. The Commodores, who lost to Nebraska in last season's national title match, had a healthy to-do list after going 7-5 last weekend.

"We have a lot to do in the few days of practice we have before our next tournament," head coach John Williamson said. "We had a few bright spots but we took a step backwards here in both our execution and our mental approach."

Ninth-ranked Stephen F. Austin won last weekend in New Jersey, its second of the young season and the second in the history of the program. The Ladyjacks return seven players from last year's squad, which finished ninth in the country, just missing a spot in last year's NCAA tournament.

“We have high expectations with this talented team and look forward to building on the successful season we had last year,” head coach Amber Lemke said.

Eighth-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, which lost to SFA in the title match in New Jersey, will also be at Valparaiso. The Warhawks return six core members from last year's varsity roster, which includes five seniors. All-America Honorable Mention Ashley Bell leads the squad.

Third-ranked Central Missouri fell just short last weekend at the Newman Mid-State Classic, finishing second to Wichita State. Kara Richard finished third overall with a 198.8 average and was an all-tournament team selection for the Jennies. She'll look to pull her team to victory this weekend at Valpo.

Fourth-ranked Arkansas State finished fourth in New Jersey and looks to build on things in Indiana. They return five lettermen from last season’s squad including NTCA All-American second team selection Sarah Lokker and NTCA All-American third team selection Ashley Rucker.

Action at the Crusader Classic begins Friday with Baker play, followed by traditional team play on Saturday and bracketed baker finals on Sunday.

No. 5 Maryland-Eastern Shore at MEAC Northern Division Meet

Fifth-ranked Maryland-Eastern Shore heads for the first of three MEAC Northern Division tournaments starting Saturday in Dover, Del. The Hawks struggled to a ninth-place finish last weekend in New Jersey, a fact new Hawks head coach Kayla Bandy put on herself after a tough team day on Saturday.

"[Saturday] I felt like we weren't all there," Bandy said. "I wasn't coaching well and the team wasn't bowling well. We knew we could do better and [Sunday] I think we showed it.

"I feel so much better now knowing how we respond to competition, what we need to work on and what we do well," she said.

To bounce back, the Hawks will need a strong performance from senior Megan Buja. Last season, Buja averaged 198.67 in 60 games last season, was an All-MEAC selection and the school's second Academic All-American.

No. 7 Fairleigh Dickinson, No. 10 St. Francis (Pa.) at NEC Meet No. 1

Two teams will look for different things this weekend at the first Northeast Conference meet of the season, which begins Saturday.

For seventh-ranked Fairleigh Dickinson, they'll look to bounce back from a third-place finish at their home Jamboree in New Jersey. If there was a bright spot, it was FDU's thrilling seven-game win in the consolation match to secure third place.

"We have a historical way of winning these long matches, particularly from behind, and [Sunday] was no exception," head coach Mike LoPresti said. "Playing a high-caliber team like Arkansas State and being able to come from behind and beat them is not easy task. It is something that will really be a good assessment for our team, and we are going to be able to use that to build off of for the rest of the year."

For No. 10 St. Francis, they look to keep the momentum going after a victory two weekends ago at the Kutztown Invitational. Christina Leid averaged 206 and Marissa Matassa averaged 195.8 as each earned the All-Tournament honors.

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