More Work to do in '22

Vandy coaches John Williamson and Josie Barnes on the 2021-22 Commodores

by Rod Williamson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — recently caught up with Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson and associate head coach Josie Barnes who presented their thoughts about the team’s results thus far and looked ahead to the restart of the season in January.

The Commodores ended the fall ranked fifth nationally in the NTCA coaches’ and with a 36-14 record and a team championship in one of their four tournaments. Vanderbilt will next compete in the Stormin’ Blue and White Vegas Classic on Jan. 8-10. How is the team staying sharp over the winter break?

Barnes: We met with each individual after the fall season and gave them some ideas on what to work on over break that will make their second semester better than their first. Most of them are going to be bowling in the team trials (USBC Team USA Trials and U.S. Amateur in Las Vegas on Jan. 3-7).  I’m not overly concerned that they are sticking with the plan because they have big goals and this is a major event before our first tournament.

What about COVID-19 concerns?

Williamson: Since the team is scattered at (their respective) home(s) we haven’t really done anything different over the break. We try to educate them and ask them to make smart decisions. We encourage booster shots when it’s the appropriate timeline and encourage them to be safe. Beyond that, we will deal with any potential changes as the situation dictates. Everything seems to change rapidly. The girls are used to the temporary nature of all plans in this pandemic.

Is the team on schedule, ahead of schedule or behind schedule?

Williamson: I would say we are on schedule. There are things we can do better. As a group we are still relying on freshmen and sophomores so we continue to learn. Our team culture in general is still a bit off-kilter since with the unusual season last year our three sophomores are in some ways still similar to freshmen. In some ways we still have six freshmen trying to develop. We showed a lot of signs last fall of being pretty good and some signs of having work to do.

Was the team culture-building improved this fall?

Barnes: Yes. A lot of it is that the girls were able to spend time together eating dinner and getting to know each other whereas last year they were limited in even basic interactions.

Is this one of our better strike-throwing teams?

Barnes: Yes, we are a very good strike throwing team. I think we can hang with anybody if it becomes a strike throwing contest.

What about fall spare-shooting?

Williamson: When you compare spare percentage statistics, we are as good as our norm but we have to be more mentally resilient and make spares when they matter.

As coaches do you like the idea of fluid lead-offs and anchors or prefer to have people that more or less own the positions?

Williamson: In a perfect world you have people that know where they are. But we haven’t yet had people lay permanent claim to those spots or any spot for that matter.

Beyond striking ability, what do you look for in an anchor?

Barnes: We talk a lot about the person that has the ability to forget and move on because everyone is going to make mistakes. The anchor, right or wrong, is going to feel that they have to make a lot of big shots and if they are still thinking about the one that went wrong, anchor is probably not the spot for them.

How did you evaluate best-of-seven play? 

Williamson: I thought we were playing pretty good. We had some tough luck with the scoring pace of a couple of our opponents but from a competitive standpoint we are in a good place.

Did the quick emergence of freshman Paige Peters surprise you?

Barnes: Yes and no. Yes in the sense we don’t have a lot of expectations from our freshmen since so many things are being thrown at them when they arrive on campus but no in terms of she’s been a world class junior player for years. She has that talent. It was just a matter of when it translated to college play.

Angelique Dalesandro started the season slow and finished strong.

Williamson: She had a summer internship and wasn’t able to bowl as much as she would have liked. It wasn’t anything she did or didn’t do. Once she got her opportunities, she was pretty predictable each week and she will continue to get opportunities because she doesn’t leave a lot of question marks with what’s she going to do. If she has a good look she’s probably going to execute.

How do you access team leadership?

Barnes: We are pretty young and still figuring it out — how to communicate with each other. I think the group is willing to learn. We talked a lot about leadership in our individual meetings and what it takes to be a good teammate. They are interested in that and have a lot of opportunity for growth.

NCAA bowling gets more competitive every year, more quality teams and individuals.

Barnes: I think you can look from when I was in school until now and there is no argument on that fact. Girls are getting better, they are getting opportunities from a young age. You look at the All-America list, it’s hard to decipher from 1 to 25 and so when they start spreading out among teams you are going to have a lot of pretty good teams that can win on any given day.

They started allowing kids to bowl in adult events. You look at the team trials now – it looks completely different from when I started bowling in it 15 years ago when it was only adults. Now there are many youth players competing against the Kelly Kulicks of the world, they see close up how good those players are but also realize they are not that far off. You look at Amanda Naujokas — she competed in two professional tournaments this summer and finished in the top 32. They have a lot of opportunities that weren’t necessarily available 15 years ago.