Vanderbilt Unbeaten Friday

The Dores are in fourth place after winning five matches on Day 1

by Rod Williamson

JONESBORO, Ark. — A rejuvenated Vanderbilt shook off its January doldrums and recorded a pair of top 10 victories en route to an unbeaten Friday at the Mid-Winter Invitational.  The Commodores ended the day fourth in the 18-team field that features eight of the nation’s top 10 teams.

Vanderbilt defeated 17th-rated Oklahoma Christian, 11th-ranked Sam Houston State, No. 7 Louisiana Tech, No. 8 Stephen F. Austin and unranked Jackson State. Perhaps more than the wins, Commodore head coach John Williamson liked the spunk his team showed in tight matches.

“I thought we bowled very well, and it was good to see,” Williamson said. “Everyone in the rotation averaged between 200 and 220. A couple of the matches could have gone either way, and I liked how we stayed focused and competed when it got tight.”

Williamson thought the three-week break between tournaments was helpful.

“We were able to have a couple of weeks to get into a routine,” he said. “We had consistent practices for the first time since winter break and that paid off. We looked like the old Vandy.”

The Commodores used a rotation of Caroline Thesier, Kailee Channell, Paige Peters, Amanda Naujokas and Victoria Varano the majority of the day.

Vandy’s two most competitive games came against Louisiana Tech and SFA.

The Tech match was leaning Vanderbilt’s way through the first four Baker Games with a 52-pin advantage heading into the finale. But the veteran Bulldogs—using a lineup that includes three graduate students—roared back with nine strikes in their final 10 shots and could have pulled out a win had it not been for Vanderbilt’s own impressive finish. Naujokas struck in the ninth and Varano added three more in the 10th—the first one necessary to win. The final score was 1,040-1,022.

SFA was next up and the spirited Ladyjacks were poised to win, posting scores of 245, 231 and 231 among their five totals. However, the Commodores hung in there with scores of 203, 220, 254, 235 and 222 of their own for a 1,134-1,074 win. The third and fourth games in this match were classics; Vandy won Game 3 254-231 with each team notching a six-bagger. The Dores edged SFA in Game 4 235-231 despite the Jacks striking eight of nine times at one point.

Vanderbilt filled 49 of its 50 Baker frames in the SFA match.

Williamson was pleased with his entire rotation but was asked about Varano’s sharp play in the anchor spot, one she’s handled at times but is still somewhat of a newcomer there.

“I don’t think the shot necessarily plays to Tor’s strength,” Williamson said. “And if you had asked her after yesterday’s practice, I doubt she would have told you she was oozing confidence, but she figured it out and was very steady today.”

Vanderbilt lost a bit of its edge in the day’s finale against unranked Jackson State. Missed makeable spares cost Vandy in several games and the final 991 total reflected the loss of concentration.

Jacksonville State leads the field, averaging 216.4 with Nebraska, host Arkansas State and Vanderbilt following.

Saturday’s five traditional games begin at 9:30 a.m. and is streamed on the Vanderbilt Athletics YouTube site. The Commodores will face Maryville in a position round match, followed by Alabama State, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Jacksonville State and Youngstown State.