Saint Vincent’s first-ever women’s bowling team will compete at the NCAA level over the 2017 winter sports season.
Head coach Jeff Zidek expects his team to be competitive in their first season.
“We have put together what I consider to not be a real first year team,” Zidek said. “We actually have a very competitive team for what you’d expect for the first year.”
Zidek said there has been much anticipation and excitement generated amongst the team.
“We’re going to have some fun, but we’re going to be competitive too,” Zidek said. “There is a way to have those two things both occur —to be competitive and to have fun.”
Saint Vincent announced in February of 2017 that women’s bowling would be the newest varsity sports addition. This left Zidek ample time to assemble a competitive roster.
“I got a late start, but I still recruited three freshmen and all three are very good,” Zidek explained. “Then we supplemented with some people who were already on campus and some of them have experience and are pretty good [too].”
Three of the players who were already on campus also play softball at Saint Vincent. Zidek recalls talking to Emily Duerr, a senior pitcher for the softball team, who was interested in taking her softball skills and applying them to bowling.
“Emily had some experience. She knows the right motion with the arm as far as being a pitcher for softball,” Zidek said. “She wanted to help us out for a year and that brought Shelby Noel and Rachel Harenchar on board as well.”
Noel, a three-time All-Presidents’ Athletic Conference First Team selection in softball, wants to help build the program for the future as a senior on the team.
“I really think we have a good chance at winning a lot of matches,” Noel said, “so the goal with that would be just doing our very best and having fun with it.”
Although Noel has little background as a bowler, her personal goals are to keep getting “better and better as the season goes on.”
Zidek named Sam Firestone, a graduate student at Saint Vincent, as the team captain for the Bearcat’s first season.
Firestone competed on the women’s golf team as an undergraduate and
was a three-time All-PAC First Team selection.
“Sam has been looking forward to this since the minute she found out we were adding bowling,” Zidek said. “It was one of the reasons she came back as a grad student.”
As captain, Zidek said Firestone will bring a competitive attitude to the team.
“[Firestone] is extremely excited about it and that’s gotten to the rest of the team as well,” Zidek said.
While this season marks the first-ever women’s bowling team at Saint Vincent, bowling has a long history as a men’s sport on campus.
In 1954, Saint Vincent built a bowling alley in Kennedy Hall, which is now called the Carey Center. The “Saint Vincent Lanes” led the college to add bowling as a men’s sport in 1964.
In those years, Saint Vincent competed in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). Br. Patrick “Pat” Lacey, O.S.B., took over as head coach in 1970.
Eight years later, the Bearcats won the national collegiate bowling championship — the college’s only national championship to date.
Technically, the Bearcats remain the reigning national champions since the NAIA discontinued bowling the following year.
In 1982, the men’s team at Saint Vincent disbanded. Eventually, the lanes were removed in the following decades.
Zidek touched on how renovations replaced the bowling lanes.
“In the early nineties when the reconstruction [of the Carey Center] went on, [the lanes] became the wellness center,” Zidek said. “When you go down the steps in the wellness center, you’d go down the steps to the lanes.”
Now nearly thirty years later, Saint Vincent will once again have a bowling team competing as a varsity sport.
In collegiate women’s bowling, all three divisions compete together for the national championship.
This, Zidek explains, allows for a small college like Saint Vincent to potentially compete against bigger schools in the NCAA national tournament.
“Somewhere down the road,” Zidek said, “a ‘Cinderella story’ for the women’s team is possible.”
Photos: SVC Athletics