By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
In a season at Saint Vincent with a strong start in men’s and women’s basketball, the women’s bowling team is representing the school just as well as anyone else. A 21-match win streak is impressive in any sport, but it has also marked an especially dominant performance by the women’s bowling team. The Bearcats have started with a record of 22-1, including a win against perennial Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference champion Medaille University and the aforementioned ongoing 21-match win streak. The single loss came against D’Youville University, a team that SVC defeated later in the day. As of Nov. 13, the Bearcats are ranked 19th by Power Index Ranking among teams from all three NCAA divisions.
“Most people don't realize that NCAA bowling mixes schools of all sizes together,” Coach Jeff Zidek explained. “We have to compete with NCAA Division I, II and III schools, and of course the DI and DII schools offer athletic scholarships. There's only one national championship. In most sports, you won't see a DIII school have to go up against scholarship programs.”
Coach Zidek has led the Bearcats since the team formed in 2017. An accomplished bowler in his own right, Zidek has worked at Saint Vincent since 1995. “I started bowling myself when I was seven years old. I've always enjoyed tournaments, but I've pretty much retired from competitive bowling now.”
Zidek’s focus on coaching has certainly benefited the Bearcats, who have accrued a record of 183-62 with his guidance and recruiting success. “I try to recruit bowlers that could go to larger scholarship schools, but choose to come here. Most of our bowlers averaged over 180 in high school, several were over 200, so they were well-coached before they got here.”
The Bearcats were set to compete in the AMCC Round Robin tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. on Nov. 19, but the tournament was canceled due to poor weather. The tournament would have consisted of Baker matches, a style of bowling with five teammates bowling a single match. Senior biology major Olivia Emmonds explained that in a Baker game “the first person that bowls the first frame will also bowl the sixth frame, two and then the seven, three and then the eight, and it just keeps going.” A tournament later in the season will use the traditional bowling format of one person bowling ten frames that most people are familiar with. The combined results of these tournaments will determine who makes the conference championship tournament.
“The team's goals are always to win the conference, we have come close in all the years that I have been here,” Emmonds said. “We’ve always been neck and neck with another team when that happens.”
Last season, the Bearcats won the regular season but narrowly lost in the championship match and missed out on the NCAA tournament. SVC has not only been crushing competition in matches; the team has fared very well at tournaments this year.
“I think our best performance was in late October at a tournament in Buffalo that we didn't win,” Zidek stated. “The overall champion was crowned based on total pins for the weekend, but we went 8-1, and actually beat the tournament champions three times. We also beat the #10-ranked team in the nation in the D2-D3 poll. Against NCAA Division 2 scholarship teams, we went 5-1 that weekend.”
The Bearcats would go on to win the Bobcat Baker Classic and the Penn State-Altoona Unicorn Invitational, and look like a championship team this year. Currently, the team has a 95.7% win percentage, by far the best among all NCAA teams.
Bowling has allowed many Bearcats to travel across the country as they compete with some of the best teams in the nation. “We went to Vegas, we got to see Niagara Falls for the second time, we’re going to Kentucky in a little bit, we’re going back to Buffalo…” Emmonds listed.
The Bearcats will compete at the Greater Pittsburgh Collegiate Classic at Hillview Lanes in Greensburg on January 14, giving SVC fans an opportunity to see a team with a huge amount of potential bowl close to home.