Fourth-Place Finish in Greensboro

The Commodores fell to host North Carolina A&T in the consolation match

by Rod Williamson

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Vanderbilt’s rollercoaster ride in Sunday’s championship bracket included an invigorating victory over North Carolina A&T, a white-knuckle loss to Arkansas State and a deflating setback in the rematch with the Aggies for a fourth-place finish at the Stallings Invitational.

“We let the disappointment of losing that Arkansas State match affect us in the consolation match,” head coach John Williamson said afterwards. “We let one loss become two. It’s hard to regroup in these formats, there is so little time. It takes a lot of maturity and it’s something we may need to learn going forward.”

Williamson said his team’s ball reaction was not ideal throughout the tournament but until the end, that problem was mostly masked.

The fourth-seeded Commodores began the day with a marathon best-of-seven match with host North Caroline A&T, finally edging the highly regarded Aggies in a modified tiebreaker that led to a semifinal rematch with Arkansas State.

This twosome has met in many eventful settings including last year’s national championship and while this didn’t carry the same weight, the drama was much the same. On this day, Vanderbilt held a 3-2 advantage in the race to win four, and in hindsight, needed anchor Victoria Varano to go strike-seven in the 10th to win the match.

Varano, who just minutes earlier had compiled a remarkable 13 strikes in a row, got the strike but could only muster six pins on her second ball, cracking the door for Red Wolves anchor Karli VanDuinen to go strike-spare to eke out a 181-180 win and even the match at 3-3. The streaky Red Wolves had lane choice in Game 7 and won decisively, 219-132, as Vandy suffered five split-opens in a row.

“All eyes in sports tend to go to the finish but Tor was keeping us in the match the whole way,” Williamson said. “We had other places we could have gotten some more count.”

He noted that the Dores had three opens in the game.

The two-time defending tournament champion Commodores had a quick rematch with the Aggies to settle third place and it seemed obvious to Vandy fans that the air had gone out of their balloon. The Dores were emotionally flat in losing 4-1 with a 201 game their high-water mark.

As deflating as the day’s finale was, the first two matches against two of the nation’s top four ranked teams were tense and exciting.

Vanderbilt used no less than three leadoff bowlers during the opener. Caroline Thesier was in the original rotation, replaced by Alyssa Ballard. The seldom-used freshman Natalie Kent was inserted in Game 6 as Vandy searched for a spark and Ballard was subbed several times to shoot spare attempts.

“None of our leadoffs were striking, and I didn’t think 9-spare was going to be enough today,” Williamson said. “So, we thought Natalie’s style was more conducive to strike potential.”

The Aggies needed a strike to tie in Game 6. Lauren Tomaszewski produced that to salvage a 222-222 draw and then went on to win Game 7 to set up the modified baker—a five frame playoff.

Vanderbilt practices these tiebreakers every week of the season as they generally seem to pop up suddenly and with just five frames, there is no time to get mentally adjusted. Kent/Ballard spared, Kailee Channell and Haley Lindley struck, Paige Peters spared and Varano finished it off strike-spare as North Carolina A&T couldn’t escape from an early hole.

Arkansas State went on to defeat Jacksonville State in the championship match.

Channell was named to her second consecutive all-tournament team following a fifth place individual finish. Peters was the seventh overall individual finisher, and Varano was 10th.

Vanderbilt is now off the tournament trail until March 15 when it hosts the Music City Classic in Smyrna.