Vandy Sends McKendree Home

Commodores stay alive at NCAA Championship

LAS VEGAS — A seldom-played junior and a freshman helped propel Vanderbilt into the third round of the NCAA Championship on Friday, an elimination-round showdown with Nebraska for the right to bowl Arkansas State for the national championship.

Jennifer Loredo, a junior bowling circuit star who had to patiently wait for her chance on Vanderbilt’s talented roster, and Victoria Varano, just named honorable mention All-America a day earlier, were the catalysts behind the Commodores second round 2-0 victory over defending champion and top-seeded McKendree. Vandy had lost its opening match to hot-shooting Arkansas State in this double-elimination format.

Led by Loredo’s 233 and Varano’s clutch strike throwing, Vanderbilt mounted a come-from-behind traditional game mega-match point,1,075-1,049 gem and then used a powerful opening 258 in the 5-game Baker set to seize a big lead it never relinquished to put the victory on ice.

“I’m really proud of the resiliency of this group,” Vandy head coach John Williamson said. “This morning was less than ideal and we knew from the beginning that McKendree was going to put up a fight. We had an epic match last year in a Saturday morning elimination match and we knew what was at stake.

“I was proud of our girls for stepping up and making quality shots over the vast majority of the game.”

Loredo is the team’s only left-handed bowler and that combined with her junior bowling successes in the South Point Bowling Plaza are significant factors in the decision to pluck her from the settee where she has basically resided the vast majority of the year. South Point is a facility known for being user-friendly to southpaws.

“Jennifer hasn’t played a lot all season but the one thing she’s done is work very hard,” Williamson said. “She goes into our Rec Center and practices on her own almost every day. She is very familiar with this place, she’s had a lot of success here so she’s confident in what she does. She’s high energy and making quality shots was our hope when we moved her into the lead off spot.”

After nailing seven strikes—including five in a row at one point—in her traditional game 233, Loredo began the deciding baker series by converting a difficult split for an energizing spare, then chipped in with five strikes during the rest of the match.

“I think we kept our heads up the entire time and continued to keep the hammer down the entire time,” Loredo said. “I feel that I’ve worked really hard—all our team does. That gave me the confidence to repeat shots and I’ve had a lot of success in this building, I know how it treats the lefties.

“So far it’s been good to me and that helps me get my mindset where it needs to be. The last time I bowled in the NCAA’s was my freshman year and to see my growth since then; it’s been so amazing and something I couldn’t have imagined.”

Varano stepped up strong when it felt needed the most. With the Commodores clinging to a thin lead in the 10th frame of the traditional game, the Stony Point, New Yorker threw four consecutive pocket strikes to close with a 213 and more importantly, give her team a much needed cushion to earn the precious point. She tossed seven strikes in her 10 frames in the baker play.

“I just want to put my heart into helping my team by doing my best,” she said. “I like being under pressure. I feel those are some of the moments I’m able to show up and help my team. My teammates did a good job of reinforcing their confidence in us, especially when we needed a good shot. It’s a lot easier to do that when the whole team is with you.”

Vanderbilt won the baker point, 1,082-1,054. All five Vandy scores were 200 or higher, led by that opening 258.

The South Point Bowling Plaza is regarded as one of the best in the nation and provides a spectacular setting for the four powerhouse teams that qualified for play by winning their regionals last week. It is the first time in at least recent years that the four teams generally regarded as the best four reached the Final Four.

The Commodores ran into a buzzsaw in their opener as Arkansas State, winners of 31 of its last 34 matches, were locked in. The Red Wolves were up 41 pins by the sixth frame of the traditional game and downed Vandy, 1,059-1,015. They gained momentum in the bakers, winning a high-scoring match 1,094-1,045. It wasn’t that Vanderbilt was playing poorly, it was just out-bowled.

Vanderbilt used a rotation of Amanda Naujokas, Alyssa Ballard, Loredo, Varano and Mabel Cummins against Arkansas State, switching in the afternoon to Loredo, Ballard, Caroline Thesier, Varano and Cummins. Senior Amelia Kiefer had the honor of throwing the fill ball in the 10th when the win was guaranteed.

“The message we have for our team tonight is the same for every other tournament,” Williamson said. “We’re alive for another day. For me, we don’t want to get too far ahead but tomorrow is a day we’ve had circled on our schedule for a long time. It’s April 15 and that’s the last day you can play. If you are alive on the last day you have a chance.

“This is Las Vegas and if you have a chip and a chair you have a chance. I like our chance. We’re not going to do anything special, just be who we are.”

Nebraska was absolutely on fire in its opening win against McKendree, totaling 1,193 pins in the Baker series. Over the years, Vanderbilt and the Huskers have had memorable matches in the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s match starts at 11 a.m. CT and is streamed on

Should the Commodores win, their national championship match with Arkansas State will be televised live on ESPNU at 8 p.m. CT.