April 5, 2010
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The last time Josie and Jessica Earnest dueled each other for a tournament title was in 2006. If the two have their way, it also may have been the last time the two will ever face each other with the stakes so high.
Like any two siblings, Vanderbilt bowlers Josie, a senior, and Jessica, a freshman, are extremely competitive with one another. But no matter how competitive they are, they would rather go head-to-head against someone other than each other in a tournament.
That tournament in 2006 was the Illinois USBC Pepsi Youth Championships. Josie, a senior in high school at the time, was the qualifying leader, while Jessica, a freshman in high school, was the third-place qualifier. Jessica won her two stepladder matches as the third qualifier and had to face her older sister for the state championship.
“Our mom actually almost yanked us from having to go against each other,” Jessica said. “It wasn’t something either of us really wanted to do to win the state title.”
Josie prevailed in the head-to-head matchup by the slightest of margins, 208-204, to win the state title.
“It came down to the last two shots,” Josie said. “It was pretty close the whole way, and we had the entire center watching. Our parents were a nervous wreck.”
That meeting may have been the last time the two competed against each other with a title on the line, but it was far from the first time the two went head-to-head.
Raised in Vandalia, Ill., a town of 6,500 in south central Illinois, the Earnest sisters were never far from the sport of bowling.
When Josie was 3 and Jessica wasn’t yet even 1, their parents, Larry and Lisa, bought a bowling center in their hometown, a 12-lane center they still operate today. Since it was a family business, the two sisters spent a lot of time at the center growing up.
“We had a pretty set schedule,” Josie said. “We would come home from school, we would practice, and we would go home and do our homework and do it all again the next day.”
Since the two could walk, they could bowl.
“I think I was 2 1/2 the first game I ever bowled, and I think I shot a 64 without bumpers, so it was kind of destiny,” Josie said.
The same can be said for younger sister Jessica.
“I remember when Josie was first bowling, my exact words to my mom were, ‘Josie do, I do.’ I haven’t known anything different,” Jessica said.
Bowling was in their blood, and they wouldn’t want it any other way. Stop by the bowling center any given night of the week and there was a very good chance one or both of the Earnest sisters were practicing.
“My parents sat me down when I was 11 or 12 and said, ‘You can practice and do your schoolwork and get a scholarship or you can go and work and actually pay for school yourself,’” Josie said.
The decision was pretty easy for Josie. She worked harder at her craft and even gave up pitching in softball after two years of high school to ensure she didn’t injure her arm for bowling.
All the extra time on the lanes paid off. After winning multiple accolades as a junior bowler, Josie chose to come to Vanderbilt. Her impact was felt immediately. As a freshman in 2007, she helped the Commodores to the school’s first NCAA Championship, while earning Tournament MVP honors. As a sophomore, she won the first of back-to-back NCAA Bowler of the Year honors.
Seeing firsthand what Josie earned through hard work and dedication to the sport was something Jessica believes pushed her to that next level, as well.
“I feel like I was so lucky to have an older sister as competitive and driven as Josie is,” Jessica said. “I don’t think I would have been on Team USA, and I don’t think I would have had the drive to want to win so many tournaments without her. I guess it gave me the fire to do it.”
Like Josie, Jessica filled her trophy case with award after award as a junior bowler. But when it came time for her to decide where to attend college, the choice wasn’t easy.
“At one point I didn’t know if I was going to come to school here,” Jessica said. “I wanted to keep my options open when I was picking a school. Beyond Vanderbilt being a top academic school, some of it came down to me knowing deep down that if I was on another team and we were in the national championship and I had to shut her out, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
By coming to Vanderbilt, it gave Josie and Jessica an opportunity to be on the same team for the first time since they played on the tennis team together as a senior and freshman in high school.
“It is a very unique experience, and it is something that we are really excited about,” Josie said. “It’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get to have. We think it is really important that we take advantage of it.”
With Jessica at Vanderbilt it also ensured that the two wouldn’t have to face each other again when a tournament title is on the line.
“There were some bloodbaths when we bowled together when we were younger,” Jessica said. “Now we are on the same team and are working toward the same goal. Not one person can be a national champion. You have to have the whole team to compete with.”
Now together, the two would like nothing more than to finish their one season together on top at the NCAA Championship in April.
“I think it would be unreal because at this point it seems like it has been so long ago that we actually won, and I want to know what it feels like again,” Josie said. “We lost that feeling of what it actually felt like when it happened. You remember it, but what did it actually feel like. To be able to do it with my sister on the team would be great.”