Updated 7:45 p.m. CT
Country Songs and Great Expectations
CANTON, Mich. - Too many spares, too many splits, not enough strikes.
That's the country song the Vanderbilt Commodores are forced to sing as they exited the 2009 NCAA Bowling Championship much earlier than they had hoped. The Black and Gold were tossed from the tournament in four straight games by Central Missouri to finish its season, the fifth place award a disappointment for a team that had come close to dominating the regular year.
Here's a news flash: At this tournament with its necessary format, the regular season doesn't mean anything. For that matter, neither does the elaborate day of seeding games.
Normally one expects the top seed has an advantage over the bottom seed. Today in the first round, three of the four bottom seeds won and the fourth botched their golden chance at upset.
This was a season of Great Expectations and that makes today's events taste more sour.
Four years ago with a team dominated by freshman, the Commodores were tickled to just make the tournament. They were fifth in Houston and that was fun.
Then came the big one in Orlando in 2007, the first NCCA title in school history with a team of sophomores and a freshman. Wow! Then last year, a heart-breaking loss in the semi-finals and a third place finish. Better luck next time.
It is obvious to that the sport of collegiate bowling is rapidly improving. Four or five years ago, the NCAA's eight team field had several members that simply could not compete with the top teams. No more. Anyone can beat anyone.
Momentum plays a huge role on this day. In Vanderbilt's case, it lost to two teams that it would be fair and accurate to say it had dominated during the long season that began in October. But as mentioned, you just need to find the mojo at the right time at this dance. The 'Dores could never get that magical Mo moving with them today.
Those who don't understand collegiate bowling will never understand the tension that occurs on the lanes. Imagine a golfer that has to make, say, a nine-hour series of six-foot putts. Sometimes those putts might come free and easy, other times they produce the yipes.
Others somehow confuse the relatively small number of teams that compete in NCAA bowling (about 65) with quality. Let's put it this way: if another 100 schools added the sport in the next year or two, it would simply diffuse the talent, not make it harder to win.
Because there are a big handful of national powers, it does seem that the same teams bowl each other a bunch. Think of it like this...how would NCAA football seem if Florida, Texas, Ohio State, USC and a couple of others would have to meet each other a lot? There would be blood on the gridiron and nobody would have a spotless record.
For the Vanderbilt faithful, we should be heartened by how much respect our program has earned in such a short time. Nearly everyone - nearly, not all - we met during this otherwise enjoyable event told us they felt the Vanderbilt program was remarkable in its quick journey to the top echelon.
It is probable that the quick win in Orlando make it look too easy; there is nothing easy about winning a national championship. It's a very big country.
Our student-athletes are winners. They have one of the best grade point averages on campus; they are active in community service and they are dominant in when they step on the lanes.
The senior class - four women who took a gamble on a fledgling program four years ago - will go on to do great things in our society. They will be brought back for reunions and introduced to cheering crowds as our first national champions.
In Hollywood, the movie would end with these seniors standing on the victory stand one last time as the camera fades to the sunset.
But this is top level college athletics and fairy tale endings are few and far between.
That keeps us coming back for more, looking for the chance to see if hard work and dedication can intersect with that fickle Lady Luck.
Next year starts in about six months.
Updated 3:30 p.m. CT
Central Missouri Eliminates Vanderbilt
Central Missouri knocked Vanderbilt out of the 2009 NCAA Bowling Championship by sweeping the Commodores 4-0 on Friday afternoon in Canton. Mich. Vanderbilt finished fifth in the tournament. Check back for a complete recap later tonight.
Central Missouri 4 Vanderbilt 0
Updated 1:13 p.m. CT
Vanderbilt Stays Alive, Edges Arkansas State 4-3
With its season goal on the line and back to the wall, Vanderbilt rallied from a 3-2 deficit in an elimination bracket game to defeat Arkansas State, 4-3, and advance to this afternoon's third round at the NCAA Bowling Championship.
The Commodores appeared in trouble after the fifth game when ASU won by a 230-212 margin. Not only did that put the Dores in a hole, the loss came on what had been the "hot" left lane, which meant the Red Wolves would move back to the lane that had given both teams two prior wins.
However, Vandy steadied itself with a sterling 225 effort with lead-off Ashley Belden providing two key strikes in the process. It would be the best game on this lane of the match and the Commodores as higher seed opted to stay right there for the deciding game 7.
Tension gripped the area as all other contests were over and it came down to the last five frames before a spare by Brittni Hamilton and clinching strike by Josie Earnest gave Vandy the win.
Vanderbilt employed the same lineup all game of Belden, Michelle Peloquin, Karen Grygiel, Hamilton and Earnest although when two games were clinched, Tara Kane came in to roll a strike and Amanda Halter got into the NCAA books with a final ball.
In an irony, the two teams elminated from this morning's action were the two finalists from 2008, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Arkansas State.
In 2:30 (CT) games, Vanderbilt faces Central Missouri while Nebraska, which narrowly escaped an upset of its own in Game 1, plays New Jersey City. The losers will be considered fifth place finishers while the two winners advance to the semi-finals to play surprising Delaware State and Fairleigh Dickinson, which topped the Huskers in Game 2.
VIEW UPDATED BRACKET
Vanderbilt 4, Arkansas State 3
Updated 10:30 a.m. CT
Fairleigh Dickinson Tops Vanderbilt in First Round, 4-2-1
Vanderbilt had pretty much dominated Fairleigh Dickinson throughout the 2008-09 season but on this morning in Canton, Mich., the Commodores caught the Knights' A-Game and dropped the first round match, 4-2-1.
The Commodores now drop into the loser's bracket (as they did last year) and face Arkansas State over the noon hour. ASU lost a hard-fought 4-3 contest to Nebraska. It was a morning of upsets as the second, third and fourth seeds lost and Nebraska nearly did so.
FDU bowled "clean" (no opens) in the first game of the best of seven while the Commodores struggled with two open frames.and couldn't get momentum. The second game was a nail-biter as Vandy's Josie Earnest and FDU's anchor matched a spare and strike in the 10th frame for the draw.
Vanderbilt started with a line-up of Ashley Belden, Michelle Peloquin, Brittany Garcia, Brittni Hamilton and Josie Earnest. Karen Grygiel came in the second game and remained throughout.
Fairleigh Dickinson 4.5 Vanderbilt 2.5