By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
Originally Published October 31, 2023
When a team reaches a level previously unmatched in program history, it can be difficult to continue building. Every year contributing seniors graduate and the level of competition rises. After a historic 2022-23 season that included their first ever ranking in the National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) D-II/D-III poll, votes in the NTCA all-division poll, and a winning record that ranked second in the country, the Saint Vincent College (SVC) women’s bowling team hopes to keep winning and to continue making team history. The closure of Medaille University, the 2023 Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) bowling champions, provides another opportunity to make program history. If the Bearcats can win the AMCC title, they will automatically qualify for the NCAA championship tournament. In NCAA bowling, teams from all divisions of competition compete for one title, which means that the Bearcats would compete against several programs that can award athletic scholarships.
“I'd like to think [Medaille’s absence] gives us a better opportunity, but we've already seen that the rest of the conference has improved,” Jeff Zidek, Head Coach of the Womens’ Bowling Team, said. He is now in his seventh year of coaching the Bearcat squad.
“William Smith College was a brand-new program last year; they will be a contender this year. Alvernia is a new program, they're going to be very good. Plus, the other schools we face regularly, several of them have shown in the past that they can beat us."
The Bearcats begin the season nationally ranked, placed 13th in the D-II/D-III poll and receiving votes in all-division poll. SVC was also selected by the coaches of the AMCC as preseason favorites for the conference title. Last season, the Bearcats held a 19-1 conference record heading into the tournament before losing to Medaille University in a tight double elimination battle. Four Bearcats were named to the all-AMCC team, three of whom return. Monique Koehler, senior communication major; Jackie Koehler, senior communication major; and Abby Justice, sophomore early childhood education major are part of a strong, experienced core that can pose a challenge to any team in the conference on the right day. Monique was also honored as Preseason Player of the Year after finishing second in scoring in conference tournaments last season.
The first contest of the season for the Bearcats, the Grapevine Challenge hosted by Penn-State-Behrend, was a successful outing. The Bearcats won the team title by 285 pins and had a 8-1 record over the weekend. The team’s only loss was to the new conference foe William Smith College. Sabine Strickland, junior digital design major, and Justice were named to the all-tournament team, with Justice’s 5-game total score of 1,073 and 31 straight frames of spares or strikes breaking school records. This performance netted her tournament MVP honors, AMCC Bowler of the Week, and Bearcat of the Week. Justice attributes her successful partially to playing the tournament with the ball of her grandfather Richard Beauchamp, who had passed away this summer.
Two weekends later, the Bearcats competed in two tournaments held by the Heartland Bowling Association. The Bearcats placed fifth on Saturday and sixth on Sunday, with Monique and freshman early childhood education major Lexi Pilyih earning all-tournament honors in the varsity and junior varsity competitions respectively.
“We faced a lot of scholarship programs and held our own,” said Zidek “I expected a top-five finish in both events in Michigan, and we finished fifth and sixth. With our scores, it's tough to say we were a little disappointed, but that shows how good we are. With the scores we are throwing, we know we can do better.”
The Bearcats certainly feel there is only room to improve at their high level of performance.
“I think we need to focus on coming more together as team scorers instead of as individually ranked scorers,” said Justice. “I know everybody wants to finish high and that’s important to us as individuals, but to come together as a team is more important to get that nationally ranked spot.”