WICKLIFFE, Ohio – The clock finally struck midnight on a gallant Vanderbilt bowling team, which lost in the NCAA championship game, 4-1, to Stephen F. Austin at the Rollhouse Wickliffe Saturday evening.
The national runner-up finish left a bittersweet taste on a Commodore team that had knocked off three bowling giants in the elimination bracket before falling short on the nationally televised stage. It was as though the top-seeded Dores had used their quota of strikes and thrilling finishes in just getting into the championship match.
Vanderbilt, hoping to be just the second program in modern NCAA bowling history to win back-to-back national titles, got off to a solid start in the best-of-seven Baker format, winning the first game 183-167. It was all downhill from there.
While all but one Commodore were posting scores south of the 200 line, the Ladyjacks threw strike after strike and found themselves winning by comfortable margins. Vandy began with a rotation of Emily Rigney, Adel Wahner, Kristin Quah, Samantha Gainor and Maria Bulanova but replaced Quah as her tender wrist began to get sore with freshman Angelique Dalesandro in the fifth and final game.
Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson was left to wonder if the grueling victories over Arkansas State, McKendree and Nebraska took some energy out of his charges.
“I didn’t think the Nebraska win this morning took that much out of us, but perhaps it sapped us a little.” Williamson said. “We were in this facility over 12 hours ago for that match and maybe we lost something with the long day. I want to congratulate the Stephen F. Austin team for their excellent play tonight. They were the better team.”
Williamson said he was proud of his team for a number of reasons and cited one specific instance.
“Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of is that we didn’t use the loss of Kristin [Quah] at mid-year as an excuse,” Williamson said. “I think many teams essentially losing a three-time All-American having a terrific fall campaign might shrink, but our kids actually got stronger. They used the next-man-up theory.”
Quah suffered from a peculiar wrist issue — not an injury — the entire spring semester. She could do nothing to damage it further by bowling but the action of throwing the ball caused soreness and numbness, robbing the program of one of its bright stars.
It was a disappointing end to a season that produced a remarkable record of 101-39, best in the nation, along with five regular season tournament wins. As the postgame awards were being handed out, tears flowed freely, especially from the team’s two seniors, Quah and Jordan Newham.
Bulanova, who won every major award this season in collegiate bowling, was named to the all-tournament team along with three other first-team All-Americans — Meghan Straub of Nebraska, Bryanna Clemmer of McKendree, Dakotah Hazelwood of Stephen F. Austin — and the tournament most valuable player, Paige Beeny of Stephen F. Austin, who had a remarkable championship game.