CORUM, NY—Defending champion Vanderbilt displayed nearly the full range of opening day cobwebs and emotions while winning two of its five Baker matches during Friday’s opening session at the Dezy Strong Invitational.
The Commodores are in fifth place based on pin count in the 18-team field, trailing three Southland powers in Youngstown State, Louisiana Tech, Stephen F. Austin and Sacred Heart.
Vanderbilt, ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, used a late rally to slide past Sacred Heart in the curtain-raiser. Vandy’s opening rotation was Mabel Cummins, freshman Alyssa Ballard, Amanda Naujokas, freshman Victoria Varano and Paige Peters and they found themselves down 43 pins after three games. Caroline Thesier came in for Naujokas in the fourth match and aided by a weak Pioneer total, seized a 19-pin lead that it kept for the win.
It was downhill from there during the next three games, turning in a pair of 882 efforts and falling two pins short in a closing rally to lose to St. Francis (Pa.), 933-931.
The Dores regrouped for the finale, using Cummins, Naujokas, Ballard, Peters and Varano for a 985 score, its best of the day, in topping St. Francis (N.Y.).
Vanderbilt coaches tinkered with the rotation and played everyone on the trip in an effort to find some good mojo. That included Amelia Kiefer, Kaylee Hitt and Jennifer Loredo on a day when no team was consistently finding the elusive pocket.
“I felt we had a lot of unforced errors,” head coach John Williamson said. “Some of those were due to nerves. Sometimes we showed signs of what is possible and at other times left much to be desired. When our first shots were under control our spare shooting was often poor and then when we started making spares our first shots were inconsistent.
“We didn’t think we matched up equipment well in these conditions and tonight we’ll make some adjustments,” Williamson said.
The veteran Cummins was the most consistent of all Commodores from her leadoff spot, often nudging her teammates into mini-strike runs before rusty spare shooting or splits drug scoring to a halt.
“Mabel was so good up front that we just left her there,” Williamson observed. “We didn’t want to get cute and start moving her around when she was doing exactly what we needed.”
The freshmen Ballard and Varano saw quick and extensive playing time. Vandy coaches often go with the bowlers that appear to have the best “look” at the official team practice the day before and during pregame warmups.
“Alyssa controls the pocket and makes spares,” Williamson said. “Plus, we wanted to give the freshmen an opportunity in the opening Baker games. We weren’t getting the consistency around them.”
Williamson feels despite his team’s ups and downs that it is still poised to make a good run tomorrow.
“This place (Corum Country Lanes) is hard and the front plays tricky,” he said. “I think the facility itself should keep the top of the leaderboard in range. We want to play tomorrow like we did to finish today.”
Saturday’s five traditional games begin at 8:30 a.m. CT and will be streamed on Vanderbilt Athletics’ YouTube channel.