Vandy’s Unsung Hero

by Rod Williamson

Senior key to Commodores' behind-the-scenes success

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Amelia Kiefer has figured something out that most haven’t: You don’t have to be the headliner to make headlines.

On a Vanderbilt team with a roster chock full of junior phenoms, Kiefer has steadily carved out an important role for herself that’s virtually invisible to outsiders, while insiders insist she is a primary reason for the team’s incredible success.

Mel, as she prefers to be called, has a key leadership role on Vanderbilt’s No. 2-ranked bowling team. Her teammates say that if they are to hoist major trophies in the post-season, Kiefer will be a big factor.

“I like to think of myself as a point of stability on the team,” said the senior from Jasper, Indiana. “I’m a person that pushes, motivates and encourages my teammates, while also picking up the slack in areas—taking care of things behind the scenes so others don’t have to or keeping it from becoming an issue.”

The sport of bowling is fickle. It’s easy to soar with momentum, but even the very best teams have to develop ways to work through tricky oil patterns, poor technique, mental downers and plain old bad luck. Kiefer embodies much of that at Vanderbilt, and her toolkit is needed at every tournament—sometimes multiple times a day.

“Amelia has developed into an overall leader,” said head coach John Williamson, who is in his 19th season and has seen his share of leaders. “Whatever needs to be done, she is going to be the one who does it. Whether it’s bowling, getting a ball from the back or picking up a struggling teammate—she’s figured out a way to make herself invaluable in all she does. She has the common sense, the awareness and the feel to say what needs to be said—and then do it.”

Such exceptional internal leadership on a team, Williamson says, makes it possible to win at a high level.

“Coaches can steer in the right direction,” he said, “but players lead the charge. The clout Mel has is the result of what she does on a daily basis and the respect her teammates give her. Once in a while she’ll have a conversation with us about what she needs to do, but more times than not she’s savvy enough to know what the situation dictates.”

Kiefer’s teammates realize what she brings to the lanes. Just ask All-American Mabel Cummins, the team’s only other senior.

“In the settee area, Mel brings a ton of energy and a calming presence,” Cummins said, especially at stressful points in the match. “She is there to support the girls in all areas—academics, workouts, practices and competition—and it is clear how much she cares about our team.”

Vandy’s two blue-chip freshmen, Victoria Varano and Alyssa Ballard, sing her praises too.

“Mel has helped me tremendously throughout this year,” Varano said. “She has always been my go-to person, whether we are talking about making moves and ball changes or other things like dogs to get my mind off bowling. … The team would not be able to be successful without her. She always finds a way to bring good energy in competition, and everyone can see she truly wants the best for the team.”

Ballard agrees.

“Mel has definitely helped me this year,” said the two-time Southland Newcomer of the Month. “She’s shown me what it should look like to be there for your teammates and how to properly talk through a rough spot in the day. I had bowled very few team events in my career until this year, and I didn’t really know how to handle it all at first—such as how much of an impact staying upbeat and keeping positive energy has. She is constantly giving pep talks and cheering whoever is up and working to keep the energy high, and that helps not just me but the team as a whole. Energy is such a huge part of team bowling.”

Kiefer, a human and organizational development major who will be honored Sunday during senior day festivities at the Music City Classic in Smyrna, is a six-time member of the Vanderbilt Dean’s List. With her talents, it’s easy to see that she would be a hot commodity on the job market. Kimball Electronic, which manufactures circuit boards, is an international company headquartered in her hometown. After two summers of interning there, Kimball has a job waiting for her.

“I will begin as a business systems analyst,” Kiefer said. “We work as a middle man between end users and application developers. We see what end users want in terms of design, find solutions for their problems and do all the documentation, testing and FDA paperwork.”

Among the skill sets needed to shine are problem solving, critical thinking and attention to detail—plus the ability to look at a problem and come up with multiple solutions.

Williamson said that Kiefer has all those tools in spades.

“Her skills are going to make her very successful in the real world because she’s an extremely smart, hard-working person that has the common sense thinking that many people don’t,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate for her involvement—playing or not playing has not factored into her daily approach. Every day she comes in with the same attitude and work ethic. I can only be fortunate enough to have someone like her in the future.”

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