Spares and Striking in Las Vegas

Caroline Thesier, Mabel Cummins inside the top 10 after 3-1 day

by Rod Williamson

LAS VEGAS — Defending tournament champion Vanderbilt won three of its four traditional game matches Sunday and ended qualifying at the Stormin’ Blue and White Vegas Classic with the third seed.

The Dores face fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s Sunday at 10 a.m. CT with top seed Stephen F. Austin paired with No. 2 seed McKendree on the other side of the championship bracket.

The Commodores toppled 25th-ranked Monmouth (coached by 2007 Vanderbilt national champion Karen Grygiel) and unranked Spalding with strong pin counts of nearly 1,100 to start the day. But about the time Vandy fans were settling in for a big day, the Dores hit the bowling wall in a bye game, brought about by the uneven field of 13 teams.

Vanderbilt cooled off quickly in the emotionless bye game and could muster a total of just 910. Next up was third-ranked Nebraska and the Dores couldn’t regain their earlier form, losing 1,138-991.

Vandy’s day ended with an easy victory over unranked Texas Southern.

“Today reminded me a bit of our Wisconsin tournament last fall when a bye impacted us,” Vandy head coach John Williamson said. “We had gotten off to a good start, significantly cut into the lead and the bye round got us out of sync and we didn’t play as well afterwards.

“It is so hard not to have a mental letdown in those byes but with COVID-19 issues there are teams that drop out at the last minute. We need to figure out how to handle the byes better.”

The anticipated match with Nebraska didn’t live up to expectations. The talented Huskers came in mired in the middle tourney standings but started this match crisp. The Commodores, still appearing out of sorts after the blahs of the bye round, got off to a sour start with three early one-pin spare misses, allowing the Huskers to squirt away to a lead they never relinquished.

Vandy used a rotation of Angelica Anthony, Amanda Naujokas, Caroline Thesier, Paige Peters and Mabel Cummins in the match with Jennifer Loredo coming in for Naujokas in the fourth. Cummins turned in a solid 235 while Nebraska anchor Crystal Elliott was sizzling with a 257.

Nebraska’s winning 1,138 pin count was its best effort to that point in the tournament by nearly 90 pins.

Vanderbilt inserted Kaylee Hitt into its rotation in the nightcap against Texas Southern and the Kentucky freshman notched an impressive 236 to lead the team.

Thesier tied for fourth in the day’s individual standings, averaging 215.6. She got off to a torrid start, posting a collegiate career best 278 against Monmouth that included 11 strikes and a single spare in the fifth.

The North Carolina sophomore also had games of 212, 213, 183 and 193. McKendree’s Kayla Smith led all bowlers, averaging 229.2.

“Caroline began the day confident, made good shots and it carried her through the day,” Williamson said.

Cummins, who finished eighth, was a steady performer in the anchor spot. In addition to her 235 against Nebraska, the Junior Team USA member also had scores of 195,204, 208 and 214.

The cavernous South Point center felt oddly quiet much of the afternoon, especially compared to noisy smaller venues college teams typically see during the regular season. The big stage might have magnified Vandy’s listless demeanor — nine of the Commodores have been in Vegas more than a week having competed at the Team USA Trials.  The Commodores’ energetic “Black-Gold” strike chants, for example, lacked their usual gusto.

Williamson pointed out that in the inaugural year of this tournament, one in which Vanderbilt won, there was a day off between the trials and the tourney, giving the teams a chance to relax and reload.