October of Uncertainty

Vanderbilt staying sharp despite not knowing next competitive event

by Rod Williamson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the calendar says Oct. 1 for NCAA winter sport programs in normal times that signifies the end of the offseason and beginning of in-season activities.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic matters are murky at best.

Vanderbilt’s bowling team continues to make its way through the strange and uncharted waters of the 2020-21 season by uniting behind a simple philosophy.

“We are going day-by-day because we don’t know what’s going to happen next,” two-time All-America selection Samantha Gainor said. “That is difficult, especially for those of us that have been here before, because we know what to expect under normal conditions and now almost everything is different.”

Different, indeed.

Normally the Commodores would have a keen eye focused on a mid-October tournament that would signal the start of a new season. As of this writing, the NCAA has not yet indicated when – or if – there will be a starting date for college bowling. So uncertainty reigns.

Sophomore Mabel Cummins is in tune with Gainor’s assessment.

“What most of us on the team have figured out is that it’s one day at a time,” she said. “There could be a new rule announced tomorrow so we want to make the best of our time now. We can’t control what health or athletic administrators might need to do.”

The Commodores have divided into groups of three to assist with COVID-19 protocols and those threesomes do nearly everything together to limit contact with others.

Gainor is grouped with Angelique Dalesandro and Amelia Kiefer and Cummins teams with Lauren Potechin and transfer Angelica Anthony. The freshman trio of Jennifer Loredo, Caroline Thesier and Amanda Naujokas form a natural group.

As a result, the threesomes have not seen each other practice except in transition from trio to trio.

“I’ve not had a chance to watch our freshmen bowl except through the window of our bowling center as they close down and we get ready to start,” Gainor said. “We have virtual game nights and FaceTimes. Last weekend when the weather was good we had a socially-distanced get together outside where we did homework, threw Frisbees and visited.

“And when the weather is OK we try to eat dinners outside at picnic tables.”

With the pandemic closing down many bowling centers across the country, Vanderbilt bowlers found other ways to fill the void.

Cummins, who hopes to attend medical school in her future, found time for a significant outside accomplishment.

“I got certified as an EMT,” said the 18-year old (which makes her one of the youngest sophomores in the NCAA). “Medical schools like to see a patient intervention component with their applicants and working as an EMT will give me valuable experience.”

In the meantime, the Commodores are practicing patience.

“I’ll admit that it is hard,” Gainor said. “I’ve set some personal goals to stay on track. You think you are working toward something and not even sure if it’s going to happen. This might be harder on the returnees as we had our postseason taken away last spring.”

As of this writing there are four fall tournaments penciled into the NCAA calendar set in place in case the NCAA gives a green light for competition to begin. Details are few and far between as no one knows what the tournament COVID protocols would be, how many and/or which teams would be invited to compete and which programs would even be able to meet the established protocols.

Perhaps it best to consider any fall competition as possible – but far from certain.