Jessica was unaware at the time that Vanderbilt was on the verge of naming bowling as its 16th varsity sport, the result of NCAA requirements for Division I-A status. It is within this context that the school's first-ever women's bowling team was created last September, and it is within this same context that Tower finds herself in a radically different situation than she ever would have imagined.
When Head Coach John Williamson came calling, Tower admits to being rather apathetic to the idea of varsity bowling.
"At first I was like, 'eh,' because I didn't think that I would be able to do everything [I was involved with]," she explained. "I was the assistant editor for Versus. So, I didn't really think [varsity bowling] was something I could do, but then I thought about it more, and I realized that would be really fun.
"I was a competitive gymnast from the time I was eight all the way through high school, and I really miss that, so I thought, yeah, maybe I'll see what's going on."
Since seeing "what was going on," at the initial informational meeting, Tower has transformed from a social bowler to one of the most consistent bowlers on Vanderbilt's inaugural team. She currently holds the second-highest average on the team. Williamson has lauded her on multiple occasions as one of the team's more reliable bowlers, and used the word "outstanding" to describe her play and that of two teammates on the day of the program's first win, against Wisconsin-Whitewater, in late January..
"It was really exciting," Tower said of the team's first win. "We were playing really well, and that was our best score, actually. Our goal, as a team, is to get an 800, and we got a 798, so we were so close -- a little disappointed, but super excited. Then afterward, Coach said, 'I didn't tell you, but they're ranked 7th in the nation,' so that was really exciting."
As exhilarating as winning can be, though, Tower is just as excited about another opportunity that being a member of a varsity team has given her: the opportunity to wear Vanderbilt's Black and Gold in a truly competitive environment.
"I feel more of a part of Vanderbilt now," she said. "I feel much more attached to Vanderbilt by being a part of a team and being a part of the larger group of Vanderbilt athletes. It's really exciting to -- it sounds corny but it's true -- to go out and represent Vanderbilt. Being our program's first year, no one has an impression of Vanderbilt, and so we get to make it."
She readily acknowledges that, because of the very nature of being an original program, the team is still struggling to pinpoint its own identity. Many of the girls already knew each other, having bowled together last year on the club team. The change to a more competitive and intense atmosphere has created a new learning process for them, though, as they strive to get a feel for each other competitively.
"We are developing an identity and getting our roles figured out," she said. "We're still in the process of working that out. Before, bowling was more of a social thing, and now, we're figuring out our competitive personalities and how does this person react to pressure? Should we put more pressure on them, or less? It's just how they react...I think once we compete together a little bit more, I think we'll get better at that.
"I think [winning the first matches] was really helpful because it's made our team a lot more positive and confident both in general and in competition," she continued. "I know personally, I was a lot more relaxed in competition and I think so were the other girls, after we won a match. I think that we're really going to benefit from it; we're more optimistic now, we feel like we're competitive out there."
Tower's optimism also extends to the long-term future. She's excited to have the opportunity to be in the type of competitive environment that mimics her ten years in the gymnastics circuit, and while she chose to step down from her editorial position with Versus, she plans to continue writing for the magazine. She also counts on parlaying her team's collective first-year varsity bowling experiences into future success for the team.
"I think we're getting to the point where we're competitive," she said. "I think my job is to help build it up, the system and the school; to go out and be well-behaved with regard to sportsmanship and just be well-behaved in general, to put out a good image of our school.
"We expect to bring in an outstanding class of newcomers and I'm excited because I think we're going to be very improved," she declares. "I think we're going to be really competitive next year. I see one of my roles next year as to help the freshmen adjust to Vanderbilt and the team, and share some of my 'wisdom'. I'm excited about that."