Post-NCAA Column by Rod Williamson
April 14, 2007
APOPKA, Fla --- Early in the NCAA Bowling Championship, the Vanderbilt Commodores realized they needed some stress relief if they were to keep their scores sky-high.
They came up with the notion on the spot to call each strike they would roll by a different adjective. Prior to the team's stunning 300 in Thursday's seeding games, one Commodore offered that this game they would need to have 12 adjectives ready for use. They did, and they were all needed.
After the first NCAA team championship trophy won by any Vanderbilt varsity team in about 125 years of trying had been handed to the jubilant nine women wearing Black and Gold, the team - which a year ago compiled a 3.49 cumulative grade point average - was almost at a loss for words.
"I don't think the feeling has completely hit me yet," said Michelle Peloquin, who along with Josie Earnest made the five-woman all-tournament team. "We have worked for this, thought about this, believed we could do this and then when it happens it seems rather overwhelming."
Peloquin, last year's national freshman of the year, said that after Maryland Eastern Shore had come back to tie the game 2-2 after VU had led, 2-0, the team kept its composure.
"We didn't get rattled - well maybe a little bit," Peloquin admitted. "We might have gotten a bit too comfortable when we got that 2-0 lead. It wasn't over-confidence but when they tied it we didn't get frazzled. We just knew we were back to square one."
Earnest was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player for her steady, pressure-packed performance the entire week. No shots were more crucial than her two strikes in the 10th frame of Game 7 to clinch the national championship.
"I knew that was a moment I had wanted to be in all season," said the Vandalia, Ill., product who last year was the nation's No. 1 recruit. "We knew all along that UMES was a great team and that they would fight us all the way. There was a good reason they were in this match."
Another of the Vanderbilt mainstays was Karen Grygiel, who was Vanderbilt's first recruiting commitment two years ago. She had been a co-captain on three New Jersey state champions.
"All week long I wore the ring I received from winning our first high school championship," Grygiel said. "We won that when I was a sophomore in high school and now here I am a sophomore in college and we do the same thing. I have been blessed to be a part of some very talented teams."
The Commodores displayed amazing unselfishness, defying their sophomore years at times. Kaitlin Reynolds came off the sidelines in Thursday's seeding play to shine and held on to that rotation spot all Friday.
Saturday morning, normal starter Tara Kane visited Coach John Williamson to reassure him that she was ready to play any role necessary.
"I tried to use my reserve role today for motivation," Kane said. "I wanted what was best for the team and I had no regrets about how things had played out. I wanted to do something special for the team if I was needed."
She was needed and she came through in championship style. She delivered two key strikes in Vanderbilt's Game 5 victory and then in Game 7 she threw a perfect ball for a strike in the seventh frame to ignite the winning rally.
The national championship is the culmination of an amazing three-year building program by Williamson. Just two years ago the program was started after Labor Day, meaning the first team was comprised entirely of women who were already students and obviously attending Vanderbilt for reasons other than bowling. Their record was 12-69.
A year ago, after some serious work on the recruiting trail, the Commodores raised some eyebrows by qualifying for the NCAA Championship with an all-freshman tournament lineup. That squad went 56-36 and tied for fifth at the Houston finals.