The holidays were a happy time for Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves were named No. 1 in both the NTCA Coaches' Poll and the NTCA Media Poll -- both first-time accomplishments for the school -- during the break. During the season's first half, they finished fourth at the FDU Jamboree and won both the Crusader Classic at Valparaiso and the team-record title at the Big Red Invite at defending national champion Nebraska in November.
"It's nice to have a great first half and have the coaches rank us first," Arkansas State coach Justin Kostick said. "We need to continue this momentum into the second half."
A big reason for the rise of Arkansas State is the play of two-time All-American Sarah Lokker. She was the tournament MVP at both Valpo and Nebraska events, averaging more than 232 at Nebraska. Lokker also finished third overall at the Team USA trials in Las Vegas in early January and will represent her country at events around the world during the next year.
During that five-day, 30-game competition bowled on five different oil patterns, Lokker averaged more than 210.
“I’m so proud of Sarah for making Team USA and to be a member of both Junior Team USA and Team USA is an incredible achievement,” Kostick said. “In the stepladder, she had some great shots and then had some tough breaks when she was on the tougher lane. Nevertheless, it’s still quite an accomplishment.”
Now the Red Wolves get a bit of a home game, as they host many of the nation's top 10 teams this weekend at the Mid-Winter Invitational in Jonesboro, a tournament they finished third in last season.
Third-ranked Central Missouri will head to Jonesboro on the heels on a strong finish at the Big Red Invite, winning the total pinfall title. Sophomore Mary Wells, who made Junior Team USA in Las Vegas earlier this month, averaged 218.6 at Nebraska. The Jennies had two other players in the top 10 in average that weekend. Sophomore Jennifer Potts was fifth (204.7) and redshirt freshman Heather Wiehe was 10th (201.6).
Stephen F. Austin, ranked fourth in the media poll in just its fifth season of existance, will try to build on its strong first half in Jonesboro. The Ladyjacks got their first wins in program history, capturing the Tulane Invitational on Oct. 20th and winning the FDU Jamboree.
"We had a lot of firsts this semester and ending the semester with our highest ranking in school history is very exciting," head coach Amber Lemke said. "The ladies have been working really hard and they understand that they have to work harder every year as the field continues to stronger."
Also competing in Jonesboro will be sixth-ranked Nebraska, seventh-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater and eighth-ranked Vanderbilt, whose head coach, John Williamson, is hoping his team can bounce back from an uneven first half.
"This is probably the one tournament when many teams might feel a bit out of kilter going in," Williamson said. "We just got back from winter break last week and we had our alumni weekend to open our new facility so we have not spent lots of time working on things. But we also had a large number at the Trials in Las Vegas so they are coming off good competition. With all the good teams here it is going to be interesting."
The Commodores also have two members of Junior Team USA on its roster. Sophomore Amanda Fry was given an at-large spot after the trials in Las Vegas while sophomore Natalie Goodman is already a member of the Junior Team USA based upon her summer Junior Gold performance. Commodore alum Brittani Hamilton won the Team USA trials.