By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
“Maintaining consistency year after year is no easy feat. It requires a combination of factors such as a dedicated coaching staff, consistent practice, and a team culture that emphasizes hard work and perseverance.” Sabine Strickland, sophomore digital design major, put into words just how impressive the Bearcat women’s bowling team’s recent performance has been.
For the third straight season, the Bearcats made the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) championship finals. For most of the season, Saint Vincent had the highest winning percentage in the entire NCAA; their final winning percentage of .850 ranked second behind a different squad of Bearcats: the defending national champions and National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) poll #1 from McKendree University.
Even with a history of success, this season was outstanding for SVC bowling. The team was ranked 13th in the NTCA Division II/DIII February poll, the first time the Bearcats were ranked by the NTCA. In March, Saint Vincent received votes in the NTCA coaches poll but fell just outside of the top 25. However, this still shows that Bearcat bowling is being recognized as a threat across the country. To back up these voter-determined polls statistically, the Bearcats were ranked 27th in the NCAA with a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of .557 and 26th with a Power Index of 0.55811.
The only thing standing in the way of an AMCC title for the Bearcats was the Medaille University Mavericks. The Mavericks were ranked slightly higher than the Bearcats in all of the previously listed statistical measures and polls, and have won the last five AMCC championships. On the line was an automatic bid to the NCAA bowling championships; an at-large bid to qualify for the 16-team tournament was unlikely for the loser of the matchup.
Qualifying matches for the AMCC tournament were set to begin in November, but a brutal snowstorm in New York led to the cancellation of the initial round robin weekend. This led to the AMCC tournament #1 occurring after tournament #2. Each competition allowed the Bearcats to face the other ten teams in the conference once per weekend.
Tournament #2 took place the weekend of Feb. 3 at Hillview Lanes in Greensburg, Pa. It consisted of traditional games, with each bowler playing a full game against their opponent. The Bearcats went 9-1 over the weekend, with the team losing only to Medaille in head-to-head competition. The Bearcats triumphed over the also 9-1 Mavericks in the final standings, with an average pins per game of 178.2 over Medaille’s 177.5.
The rescheduled Tournament #1 was played at Classic Lanes in Kenmore, N.Y. on the weekend of Feb 18-19. The Bearcats went undefeated, averaging 181.4 pins per game. This tournament was played using the Baker format, with five teammates sharing the lanes and swapping out each frame. Saint Vincent’s 19-1 record in the combined tournaments would earn them the top seed for the AMCC championships. This strong result was powered by the balanced team play of the Bearcats.
“Really we won and lost as a team,” Head Coach Jeff Zidek said. “Everyone contributed all season to the success… everyone on the team contributed all the way to the end.”
Three different Bearcats were named AMCC Bowler of the Week during the 2022-23 season: Olivia Emmonds, senior biology major; Monique Koehler, junior communication major; and Abby Justice, freshman early childhood education major. An additional four Bearcats averaged over 170 pins per game: Jackie Koehler, junior communication major; Mercedes Belch, graduate student; Kaitlyn Morrison, senior history major; and Strickland.
The Bearcats brought their A-game to the AMCC championships. The tournament took place over three days, from March 24-26, at Pine Plaza Lanes in Pittsburgh. SVC was given a first-round bye as the top seed and faced the fifth seeded New Jersey City Gothic Knights in the quarterfinals. The Bearcats won both games, taking the traditional match 873-865 and winning the Baker match 878-846. Emmonds bowled a 230 with five strikes in the traditional round, a team-high for the whole tournament.
A match against Medaille was up next for the Bearcats. SVC won the traditional match 998-959 after a strong rally in the last two frames. Medaille responded with a 925-852 Baker victory. This set up a best of 7 Baker series to advance to the championship. The Bearcats fell behind 2-1 after the first three matches, but responded with 3 straight wins (203-182, 224-180, 180-164). Medaille was sent to the “losers” bracket of the double elimination tournament. They then triumphed over New Jersey City to set up yet another contest with Saint Vincent.
The Mavericks came into the championship strong, beating the Bearcats 964-948 in the traditional match and 963-916 in the Baker match. This put both programs on even ground with one loss each. The champion would be decided in a winner-takes-all best of seven Baker match.
The Bearcats won the first game 188-166. Medaille took the next three games before a strong SVC performance brought them to 3-2. Unfortunately, the Bearcats would fall 245-201 to an explosive Mavericks performance.
“We've gotten better every year and gotten closer every year, but Medaille keeps getting better, too,” Zidek said. “In my mind, we didn't lose anything. We got beaten by a higher score. There's a difference between that and performing badly and giving it away. This team didn't give anything away.”
Strickland and Emmonds were named to the All-Tournament Team; the only other school with two bowlers recognized was Medaille. Emmonds was also named Bearcat of the Week for performing at her best when it counted most. She averaged an impressive 200 pins per game.
When asked about being honored at the end of the season, Emmonds said, “It honestly meant the world! As athletes we are always striving to improve and get better at what we do and for all the hard work to really show in my last collegiate competition was the best way to leave it on the lanes!”
The Koehler twins, Emmonds, and Justice were all named to the end-of-season All-Conference Team.
The Bearcats hope to keep growing stronger each year. “Getting our freshmen up to speed in a hurry will be a big challenge,” Zidek said. “We are losing four bowlers that have a combined 17 years of college bowling experience - one was a grad student this year. We are bringing back four of our starters and I have no concerns with them, but we were able to use our entire roster this year and not miss a beat.”
“Winning the tournament will require a lot of hard work, dedication, and focus,” Strickland said. “We will need to continue to work on improving our skills, both as individual bowlers and as a team. We will also need to maintain a positive mindset and stay motivated throughout the season.”
The Bearcat women’s bowling team has been on a tear the last few seasons; a conference championship is certainly within their view.