WICKLIFFE, Ohio — Maria Bulanova was named the Division I Player of the Year at the NCAA’s annual Awards Dinner Wednesday night, while teammates Adel Wahner and Samantha Gainor earned third-team All-America recognition by the National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA).
Head coach John Williamson was voted the Division I Coach of the Year after guiding the Commodores to a program record-tying five regular season tournament titles and the No. 1 seed at this week’s NCAA Bowling Championship.
Capping off a huge Vanderbilt evening, senior Kristin Quah repeated as the winner of the NCAA Elite 90 Award, which is given at all 90 NCAA Championship tournaments to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average. Quah has a 3.97 in biomedical and electrical engineering.
Bulanova was named Southland Bowling League Player of the Year following a season in which she won the Prairie View and Music City Classic tournaments and was named to five all-tournament teams. In leading her Vanderbilt team to the No. 1 seed at the NCAA Championship, she was second in the nation in overall average, Baker doubles and makeable spares.
The junior from Moscow, Russia, becomes just the second Vanderbilt bowler to win national Player of the Year honors; associate head coach Josie Earnest won the award in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009. Bulanova had also been the National Rookie of the Year in 2017.
In addition to being the Player of the Year, Bulanova also headlined the five-woman first-team All-America squad, the second time she has been voted to the first-team. Rounding out the first team were Bryanna Clemmer of McKendree, Meghan Straub and Raquel Orozco of Nebraska and Dakotah Hazelwood of Stephen F. Austin. Making it even more special for Bulanova, her parents Max and Olga came from Moscow and were among the throng of Vanderbilt fans on hand to see the big night in person.
“I still don’t believe it happened,” Bulanova said. “I was working hard and hoped it would happen someday but I didn’t know it would actually happen. It was a special moment to have my parents here. It is their first time at the national championship.”
Gainor came on strong as the year progressed, making five all-tournament teams and being named a first-team all-Southland Bowling League selection as she jumped into the upper echelon of many NCAA statistical categories. Her consistent play ahead of Bulanova in the rotation gave Vanderbilt one of the strongest finishing pairs in collegiate bowling. Her top individual finishes were a fourth-place spot at the Hawk Classic and fifth at both the Music City and Ladyjack.
Wahner was named to the SBL’s second team, a conference that sports four of the nation’s top six ranked teams. The New Mexico native was also known for her steady play, leading the nation in filled frame percentage at 89 percent. The Junior Team USA member was second at Monmouth’s Hawk Flight, fourth at the Sunshine State and fifth at Prairie View.
“I was super excited,” Gainor said. “I hadn’t paid attention to the stats and didn’t know where I stood so this was a surprise. I think it’s just awesome that we were recognized so much tonight, our team is just amazing. Our chemistry has helped us bowl as a team all season.”
Wahner has seen her bowling stock rise steadily each season.
“Becoming an All-American has been a goal for me for quite a while,” Adel said, “so it’s nice to see that my hard work is starting to show and it’s nice to be able to live that for a little bit. It’s nice that our team could sit back for one night and be recognized for its hard work.”
The Coach of the Year award was the second for Williamson, who also won in 2007. In his 15th year as Vanderbilt’s head coach, he saw his Commodores compile a nation-leading 97 victories against just 35 losses while leading the NCAA in RPI. Vanderbilt finished the year strong, winning four tournaments including three in a row during the spring semester. The five total tournament wins tied the single-season mark set by Vanderbilt’s 2009-10 team.
“Awards to head coaches are the direct result of outstanding players and staff,” Williamson said. “This award goes as much to Josie Barnes as to me. She did a tremendous job this year with our team. And we have a talented group of kids that are fun to coach. It was pretty obvious from the many awards they received tonight that they are a special group.”
The NCAA Championship begins Thursday morning at the RollHouse Wickliffe. Top seed Vanderbilt plays eighth-seeded Sacred Heart at 8:00 a.m CT in the double elimination event.