SMYRNA, Tenn. – A finely tuned Vanderbilt bowling team put on quite a bowling concert during the first day of the Columbia 300 Music City Classic.
The host Commodores enjoyed one of their finest opening tournament day performances, winning all five of their matches but more significantly, ranking up monster pin counts to grab the lead in the 29-team field. McKendree is second, 160 pins behind Vandy, which averaged a potent 215.6 over five matches and 25 Baker games.
How potent? Three of the Dores’ five matches tallied pin counts that rank among the program’s all-time top 15 – including an eye-opening 1,141 that is fifth best in school history.
“We felt like we were in a bubble,” Samantha Gainor said afterwards. “It was as though we were the only ones in the center and we were floating along. I, for one, don’t think I could even tell you every opponent; it didn’t matter because we were focused on ourselves.”
With a starting rotation of Jordan Newham, Kristin Quah, Adel Wahner, Gainor and Maria Bulanova, the Commodores blistered the Smyrna Bowling Center lanes with scores of 1,141 and 1,103 right out of the gate. With Quah on a “pitch count”, Emily Rigney came in for the last two games and the strike barrage continued.
“I felt yesterday in practice that I couldn’t miss so I knew coming into today that if anything started to go wrong I had something to go to,” Gainor said. “I was really matched up well.”
Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson is well aware that tournaments are not won on Friday and that home tournaments don’t always produce happy endings but on this day, even he could find little to fault.
“When you are close to 400 over (a 1,000 pin match average) for a day there’s not a lot to nit-pik,” the veteran Vandy coach said. “The girls were consistent; I thought it would be a challenge with all the distractions, the change of routine, lots of family and friends in attendance and a different environment in the settee with more players suited up and I thought the girls harnessed the positive energy. We had just four missed-makeable spares all day and you are going to be pretty good when you have that happen.”
The senior Newham sized it up like this:
“It felt like a lot of fun,” the Aurora, Illinois, product said. “We had a very loose energy, everyone was present, everyone was invested. That can be hard sometimes when there is 11 in the settee. We were all matched up and throwing it well. We had long strings of strikes and it was a clean, well-executed day. Tomorrow the biggest thing is to be sure everyone is in the moment and invested.”
If everyone was in tune, nobody was in better voice than Bulanova, the All-America anchor, who had an exceptional day.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Maria said, stating what appeared to be obvious to the big throng of Vanderbilt boosters. “The team in general was bowling really well and it’s easier to bowl when you don’t have the pressure of needing to double. Sam was setting me up from just ahead of me all day.”
The Commodore victims for the day included four top-25 ranked foes – Duquesne, Sacred Heart, LIU-Brooklyn and Adelphi along with St. Francis-Brooklyn.
All the Commodores were in agreement that Lauren Potechin, the sophomore from Short Hills, N.J., was a highlight. She was called upon to finish one of Bulanova’s 10th frames, getting the chance for the first time in her college career to compete in a tournament. She fought off some nerves and responded with 8-spare, drawing enthusiastic high-fives from her teammates and producing a smile that lit the center.
“Everyone on the roster works hard,” Williamson said, “but we have limitations on how many we can travel and play so when we have a chance to play someone who works hard and has earned the right it’s nice to get them in.”
Williamson repeated a challenge for his second-ranked team.
“I’m interested in what we do tomorrow off this success. For us to achieve the goals we want to achieve, we will want to have success one day, go to bed, get up and do it again the next day. We had a lot of success today but it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same.”
A full day of bowling is set for Saturday with the first of five traditional team games to begin at 9:30 a.m. There is no admission fee to watch many of the best college teams in the nation compete. The tournament, the 15th annual and one of the nation’s largest, concludes Sunday.