Dores Advance in Rochester

Vanderbilt moves on to face Merrimack in Saturday's elimination match

by Rod Williamson

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Very little came easy for Vanderbilt’s bowling team as it advanced to Saturday’s fourth round of the NCAA Regional, bouncing back with a victory over William Smith after losing to a red-hot Merrimack in Friday’s opening match.

The Commodores will have a quick rematch with Merrimack Saturday morning at 8 a.m. CT after the Warriors fell to Arkansas State in the afternoon session. Arkansas State now sits in the catbird seat with a pair of wins and awaits the Vandy-Merrimack winner Saturday afternoon.

It was an uneven day for Vanderbilt, the 2023 national champions. After getting off to an impressive start in the morning session—beating Merrimack in a high-scoring traditional game, 1,111-1,050, the Commodores lost their momentum in the five-game Baker set.

The Warriors, who came to life late in the season and needed a play-in game before winning the Northeast Conference tournament, transformed into a strike-throwing machine. Merrimack had games of 219, 223-, 259, 263 and 196 (1,160) to top Vandy and send the mega match into a best of seven.

Vandy won Game 1, 242-192, but sagged from that point on, losing four games in succession with scores not up to its standard.

The Commodores rebounded in the afternoon, topping a feisty William Smith squad, whose campus is only about an hour’s drive from the Bowl-a-Roll facility. Vandy pulled away late to take the traditional point, 947-848, and won the match with a 1,001-942 Baker set.

“I thought the afternoon was a more complete effort than the morning,” head coach John Williamson said. “We seemed to lose focus and didn’t compete well after Game 1 of the baker best of seven. I thought we did a decent job competing against William Smith.”

Vanderbilt began the day with a rotation of Paige Peters, Kailee Channell, Amanda Naujokas, Haley Lindley and Victoria Varano. Peters nailed six straight strikes in the opener for a 244, and Naujokas also had a six-bagger en route to a flashy 248. Varano’ s 230 was also required as Merrimack’s 1,050 made for a high-level game. The Dores pulled ahead midway through the game and maintained a comfortable, if not insurmountable, lead.

Vandy stayed with that rotation through part of the Baker set before inserting Alyssa Ballard for Channell.  The Commodores had their chances in the best of seven but an open frame in the fourth game allowed the Warriors to sneak off with a 206-201 win. In Game 5, a double in the 10th would have taken the game but Vandy managed just one strike.

The William Smith match did not produce many dramatic moments. Lindley led the traditional scoring with a 214, and Peters added 203.

Vanderbilt put freshman Natalie Kent into its rotation, much to the delight of a large contingent of Kent family and friends who were in the house. Kent’s hometown of Newark, New York, is a short 32 miles from this bowling center.

Kent admitted feeling some added pressure, knowing that a defeat would end the season.

“We know it was a fight to the death, and we knew we needed it here,” she said. “It’s always great to have so much support behind you and I love them so much.”

Varano and Peters agreed on how the Commodores regrouped between sessions.

“It was a time for us to come together as a team knowing we had the same goals,” Varano said. “We gained a lot of information in that Merrimack match; we saw a lot of trends such as ball roll and lane play that we think will help us tomorrow.”

“We had more team huddles than normal trying to focus on one thing at a time, and once we did it, was easier to have a collective goal,” Peters added.

Saturday’s play can be viewed on after signing up for a free account.