ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Nebraska captured its fifth NCAA title in school history on Saturday night, as the NTCA top-ranked Huskers defeated Stephen F. Austin 4-2 at Tropicana Lanes in St. Louis in front of a nationally-televised audience.
The Huskers have won five NCAA titles since bowling became an NCAA-sanctioned sport in 2003, as Saturday’s victory was its first since 2013. NU also won it all in 2009, while winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005. In the first 12 years of NCAA sponsorship, the Huskers have finished first or second seven times.
Husker freshman Julia Bond won Most Valuable Player in the NCAA National Championship match, as senior Liz Kuhlkin also made the all-tournament team.
Bond, in her first season with the Huskers, was speechless after the match, mentioning that all of the hard work the team has put in really showed when the match got tough.
“This is literally the definition of hard work pays off, that match was so tough, and when we got behind there for a bit, we just continued to believe and work hard,” Bond said. “To win the national championship is really important to us, again, it just shows our hard work pays off.”
A third-team All-American selection, Bond was at a loss of words trying to describe what it felt to be champions.
“Being a freshman and doing something like this -- it is just unbelievable. It is honestly all because of the girls that were standing behind me every shot,” she said. “It just feels great. To win MVP really means a lot, it kind of sets the tone for my college career -- it just feels really good right now to be champions.”
Nebraska head coach Bill Straub was not surprised by Bond’s performance. According to him, Bond has been at the top of her game for the last month.
“The last two weeks before we came here, we really worked on hitting spares in practice while really working on our fundamentals,” Straub said. “Bond was at the top of the list, she does not very often hit a bad shot, every time she is up you know the shot is in the hunt.”
Straub believes the Huskers' preparation throughout the season helped guide them to their 10th overall championship.
“They talk about it with football pretty regularly, the people that are the best conditioned or the best prepared last the longest doing their best, and that is what we did tonight,” Straub said. “My hat goes off to Stephen F. Austin, they are a tremendous team, but I just think the endurance of being so prepared for a long struggle that required emotion management and fundamental preparation and then the delivery of those fundamentals, those are the reasons that got the ‘W' for us.”
Straub added that its great the Huskers won their fifth NCAA title, but as he mentioned, do not forget about the other five championships Nebraska has won before the NCAA began sponsoring bowling.
“For the school this is our 10th title overall, and fifth NCAA title since the sport become sponsored by the NCAA in 2003. Ten is sure a nice number, I am certainly not discounting the five NCAA titles, 10 just sure does make a nice round number.”
In Game 1, the Huskers opened up the national championship match in exciting fashion against the Jacks, as NU used clutch strikes by freshman Julia Bond and senior Andrea Ruiz to narrowly beat SFA 237-232.
Nebraska opened up the second game with a strike from sophomore Gazmine Mason, before leaving some pins out on the alley through the first five frames of the game, as the Huskers trailed the Ladyjacks by 49 after five frames.
Mason again would try and spark NU, as she rolled a strike in the sixth frame to give NU a spark. After two consecutive spares by Melanie Crawford and Ruiz, and a strike by Bond, senior Liz Kuhlkin finished the second game with a spare. Despite the strong finish, Stephen F. Austin threw seven consecutive strikes to defeat the Huskers 253-178.
The Huskers quickly got Game 2 out of their minds, as Nebraska opened up Game 3 on fire with three strikes and two spares, giving NU a 13-pin lead after five frames. Mason continued her dominating ways in the sixth frame, throwing her fourth consecutive strike to build on the Husker lead.
Junior Melanie Crawford threw a clutch spare in the seventh frame after only knocking six pins down in her first attempt. Ruiz threw her fourth strike of the night in the eighth frame, giving NU some cushion before their 4-5 bowlers. Bond threw a strike and Kuhlkin was able to close the game out with a spare, as the Huskers crushed the Ladyjacks 201-171.
NU continued its dominating play in Game 4, as the Huskers opened the game with two strikes and a spare to grab the early lead. After two spares from Bond and Kuhlkin, NU took an 11 pin lead to the media timeout, entering the sixth frame. Despite the early lead, the Huskers were unable to hold on to the lead, as SFA edged out NU 188-179 to even the match at 2-2.
Entering into Game 5, the Huskers and Ladyjacks began a best-of-three series for the NCAA Title. NU started off Game 5 with an open frame, leaving two pins up giving Stephen F. Austin an early lead. The Huskers continued to battle, as NU only trailed by 10 pins entering the sixth frame.
Mason again threw an impressive strike to open up the sixth frame of Game 5, as the Huskers continued to try and battle back against the Ladyjacks. Ruiz again threw a clutch strike in the eighth frame, giving the Huskers the lead back. NU was able to close out SFA after clutch shots from both Bond and Kuhlkin, as the Huskers took Game 5 205-201.
Game 6 brought the best out of both Nebraska and Stephen F. Austin, as the Huskers tried to close out SFA to win the title. After a clutch strike from Crawford the Huskers trailed the Ladyjacks by four entering the sixth frame and media timeout.
After an open frame in the seventh frame, Ruiz hit a huge strike to give the Huskers the chance to control their own destiny. Both Bond and Kuhlkin were able to close the match out, as Kuhlkin threw the final spare to give Nebraska the match win 4-2.