April 11, 2018
Until the final award was announced at Wednesday’s NCAA Awards Banquet, the big Vanderbilt news was expected to be that Kristin Quah and Maria Bulanova were named to All-America teams during the evening.
That was before the announcement of the NCAA’s Elite 90 Award, which is presented at every NCAA championship event to the student-athlete with the highest grade point average among the teams in the field. From afar, one might think Vanderbilt’s prestigious academics and the outstanding students they attract would dominate this award.
Wrong! It generally takes a 4.0 GPA to win the award and it’s next to impossible for any Vanderbilt student to navigate the bruising classrooms in perfect 4.0 form.
But Kristin Quah, double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering, carries a 3.953 (someone had the nerve to give her an A- along the way) and the Commodore contingent felt she was more than deserving.
So when National Ten Pin Coaches Association officer Karen Grygiel (ironically a Vanderbilt alum herself) began with “a 3.953 in bio…” the Vanderbilt folks went bonkers, no doubt making many others in the crowd of about 200 wonder why it was received with such enthusiasm.
The reason was history. Veteran Vanderbilt officials couldn’t immediately come up with any former Commodore student-athletes that have won the Elite 90, although basketball’s Bruce Elder and baseball’s Hunter Bledsoe won their sport’s Academic Athlete of the Year decades ago.
The significance of winning was not lost of Quah, a junior from Singapore.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to win this award,” the modest but elated Quah said afterwards. “When they read that GPA, I was stunned – `that’s me!’. We are, for the most part, a pretty quiet team and for us to be that loud – to totally drowned out the announcement – it was incredible. An incredible moment.
“Everyone knows when you come to Vandy its going to be hard so maybe winning this award shows others that it’s possible to go to this tremendous university and succeed in academics and bowling at the same time. It’s not about going for an award but I like to pride myself in doing well whether it’s bowling or school. It’s nice to know I’m being rewarded for doing that and that others recognize the efforts I’m putting in.”
Quah’s father was en route to St. Louis and was not in attendance to see the celebration and Jordan Newham‘s mother, Jill, snapped a quick photo and zapped it to Singapore for Kristin’s mom – who noticed the lack of buzz about the All-America honors and asked why.
“Unless you were in the room you couldn’t have realized what a magical moment it was,” Kristin aptly said.
Back to the bowling front, where Bulanova was named a second-Team All-American while Quah was a third-team pick on a vote by the nation’s head bowling coaches. Their selections place them among the nation’s top 15 bowlers for the 2017-18 season.
The NTCA also spotlighted Bulanova for leading the nation in the important statistical category of Baker doubles, an important pin producing stat that simply means striking after a teammate has also struck, which produces high pin counts. Bulanova doubled in Baker play 58.2% of the time.
Bulanova’s year included a Most Valuable Player award at the Whitewater Warhawk Classic and inclusion on two all-tournament teams, which typically represents top five tournament finishes. She was fourth nationally in Baker average, sixth in strikes, eighth in split leave percentage and 11th in first ball 9 or more pins.
Quah won last fall’s Sam Houston Kat Klash and was on three all-tournament teams. She has a well-earned reputation as one of the NCAA’s leading spare converters, ranking third nationally in makeable spares and 9-count spares. She was also sixth in the percentage of games at 200 or more pins.
Bulanova was unaware of her high national ranking in Baker doubles but attributes her success to her habit of watching the scoreboard and getting revved up to capitalize on her team’s success. The two Commodores have been honored by the NTCA before; Bulanova was a first-team All-America pick as a freshman and Quah was a second-team selection as a freshman two years ago. Both were named as the prestigious Rookie of the Year for their respective classes.
The tournament gets underway Thursday morning at 9 a.m. CT. All matches are live-streamed on NCAA.com. Fourth-seeded Vanderbilt opens with No. 5 seed Sam Houston State in a clash of Southland Bowling League rivals.
Additional Tournament Coverage
There are a number of places to find additional Championship coverage. The St. Louis Sports Commission has a wide range of useful information at stlsports.org/bowling including video archives of press conferences that will run throughout the tournament.
Also, Travis Day of the Southland Bowling League is at the tournament so check out the information at Southland.org.