Knight-time falls on NCAA women's bowling

    04/17/06

    USBC Collegiate

    Fairleigh Dickinson wins first national title in fourth year of its program

    The foundation was laid a little more than four years ago. That's when Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Mike LoPresti tabbed Lisa Friscioni and Kristina Szalay as his first two women's bowling recruits.

    As the seniors' college bowling careers came to a close Saturday, they walked out of Emerald Bowl with the ability to say they helped build a national champion from scratch.

    Friscioni, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, and Szalay finished off Fairleigh Dickinson's impressive showing at the 2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship as the Knights defeated Alabama A&M 4-1 in the best-of-7 Baker championship match.

    The national championship match will air on ESPN at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday on a tape-delayed basis.

    Members of Fairleigh Dickinson University celebrate their 2006 NCAA Women's Bowling Championship on Saturday in Houston. From left to right: Christi White, Kristina Szalay, Amy Jo Lescisko, Rebecca Ketcham, Lisa Friscioni, Jocelyn Davis, Brianna Balkin, Lindsay Frusciante, assistant coach Alexis Lepore and head coach Mike LoPresti. (click on the image to enlarge it)

    "Amazing," said Szalay, an Elmwood Park, N.J., native who was named to the all-tournament team as well. "I don't know what other way to describe it. It's the greatest feeling in the world knowing that all the work and dedication you put in, all the hours throughout the years, pays off in a good way."

    The teams split the first two games, before Fairleigh Dickinson grabbed control by limiting mistakes - only five open frames in the final three games - and taking advantage of Alabama A&M's miscues. After Alabama A&M opened in the third frame of Game 5, the Knights rattled off consecutive strikes from Szalay, Friscioni and junior Christi White of Croydon, Pa., en route to a 196-165 championship-clinching victory.

    "There's no difference between the shot in practice and the shot here, except for the pressure," said Friscioni, the Howell, N.J., native and the Knights' anchor bowler who struck on eight of her 16 first-ball attempts, including 3 of 4 in Game 5. "The pressure is what you make of it. If you let it affect you, it does. All you can do is make a good shot and let the pins fall where they may."

    Fairleigh Dickinson, champion of the East Coast Athletic Conference this season, improved on its third-place finish from 2005 and fourth-place showing from 2004. It would've needed to lose to Alabama A&M in two best-of-7 Baker matches to be denied the national title, due to the double-elimination format.

    "It's a like a child who has finally grown up," LoPresti said on Fairleigh Dickinson's rise to the top. "To make it this far and win the whole thing in just four years is poetic justice."

    Alabama A&M, the "Cinderella" story in their first appearance at the NCAA Championships, struggled to find the pocket and string strikes together - it only had consecutives strikes once after the second game. Coupled with open frames at inopportune times, the Bulldogs never could regain the momentum they had earlier in the day when they dethroned top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nebraska 4-2 in the semifinal.

    "I didn't think our girls were bowling poorly. We just couldn't get into that groove we had against Nebraska," said Alabama A&M head coach Jeff McCorvey, a United States Bowling Congress Coaching Silver level coach. "Fairleigh Dickinson executed when they needed to and you have to give credit to them. We just got out-bowled."

    In their semifinal victory, the Bulldogs, who also defeated Nebraska on Friday and have now won three straight matches against the Cornhuskers, were paced by sophomore Whitney Smith. The Huntsville, Ala., native struck on 16 of 21 first-ball attempts in the match and closed Game 2 with three strikes for a 200-199 victory.

    "I just went up there and did it," said Smith, who also was named to the all-tournament team along with her teammate, sophomore Shanice Graham of Chicago. "I was really relaxed and was able to concentrate on what I had to do. I thought bowling on the TV set with all the lights was kind of cool."

    Rounding out the all-tournament team were Nebraska junior Adrienne Miller of Albuquerque, N.M., and New Jersey City sophomore Vicki Spratford of Hopelawn, N.J.

    The United States Bowling Congress Collegiate program (formerly College Bowling USA) maintains the eligibility and integrity of intercollegiate bowling while providing certification and regulation of varsity bowling at the collegiate level. USBC Collegiate also provides assistance and leadership in implementing bowling programs, securing the opportunity for student-athletes to compete in the sport and achieve athletic and academic excellence.


    2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship

    Emerald Lanes in Houston, Texas (April 13-15, 2006)

    Saturday's Results
    Match Play (double-elimination, best-of-seven Baker games)

    Semifinal
    (5) Alabama A&M def. (1) Nebraska, 4-2 (Nebraska eliminated)
    (209-198, 200-199, 181-189, 257-212, 194-190, 214-169)

    Championship Match
    (2) Fairleigh Dickinson def. (5) Alabama A&M, 4-1
    (209-165, 148-184, 172-165, 200-179, 196-165)


    Fairleigh Dickinson advances to NCAA title match


    Fairleigh Dickinson University senior Lisa Friscioni cherishes her position as her team's anchor bowler. After her clutch performances in the 10th frame Friday, the Knights are one victory away from their first national championship.

    Friscioni struck out in the 10th frame of the final two games to help Fairleigh Dickinson rally past upstart Alabama A&M 4-3 in a best-of-7 Baker match, sending the Knights to Saturday's title match in the 2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship at Emerald Bowl.

    "We've been put in that situation a few times," said Friscioni, who led Thursday's individual qualifying with a 219.25 average. "The pressure is there, but all you try to do is make a quality shot like in any other frame."

    After Alabama A&M sophomore Whitney Smith opened in the 10th frame of Game 6 and the Bulldogs holding a 3-2 lead in games, Friscioni hit three pocket strikes to give the Knights a 192-180 victory sending the match to a decisive seventh game.

    The door opened for Fairleigh Dickinson again in Game 7 when Smith left a 3-6-10 on her second ball in the 10th. Friscioni answered with three more pocket strikes to give the Knights a 216-205 victory and the match.

    The No. 2 seeded Knights, who also defeated Bethune-Cookman 4-2 and Vanderbilt 4-3 earlier Friday, jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Alabama A&M and looked to cruising after a 234-150 victory in Game 2. The Bulldogs, who upset two-time defending champion Nebraska 4-3 in the previous round, instead battled back winning the next three games.

    "We had nothing to lose and everything to gain at that point," said Friscioni a Howell, N.J., native. "You just have to attack them and hope they give you an opportunity to win. Alabama A&M was bowling amazing, so we needed to put some pressure on them."

    Fairleigh Dickinson awaits the winner of the semifinal match between Nebraska and Alabama A&M, which is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday. Due to the double-elimination format, the Knights would need to be defeated twice in a best-of-7 Baker match to be denied the national championship. The championship match is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday.

    "Whichever team we face will give us a challenge," Friscioni said. "By no means is the door closed yet."

    The national championship match will air on ESPN at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday on a tape-delayed basis.

    Alabama A&M, making its first appearance at the NCAA Championship, rallied from a 3-2 deficit against top-ranked Nebraska thanks to critical strikes by Smith, a Huntsville, Ala., native.

    "We're obviously an underdog team here," said Alabama A&M head coach Jeff McCorvey, a United States Bowling Congress Coaching Silver level coach. "We don't have the reputation of a Nebraska or a Fairleigh Dickinson, but we didn't come here to just show up. We came here to win."

    The defeat pushed Nebraska to the losers bracket, where it rebounded by eliminating two-time national runner-up Central Missouri State 4-0 and then New Jersey City 4-2 to advance to the semifinal match.

    The Cornhuskers have been in this position before, however. In 2003 after being relegated to the losers bracket, they defeated New Jersey City in the semifinal then proceeded to defeat previously unbeaten Central Missouri State twice in best-of-7 Baker matches to claim the first NCAA women's bowling championship.


    2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship

    Emerald Lanes in Houston, Texas (April 13-15, 2006)

    Friday's Results
    Match Play (double-elimination, best-of-seven Baker games)


    First Round
    Match 1 * (1) Nebraska def. (8) New Jersey City, 4-1
    Match 2 * (5) Alabama A&M def. (4) Maryland-Eastern Shore, 4-1
    Match 3 * (2) Fairleigh Dickinson def. (7) Bethune-Cookman, 4-2
    Match 4 * (6) Vanderbilt def. (3) Central Missouri State, 4-2

    Second Round
    Match 5 * (5) Alabama A&M def. (1) Nebraska, 4-3
    Match 6 * (2) Fairleigh Dickinson def. (6) Vanderbilt, 4-3
    Match 7 * (8) New Jersey City def. (4) Maryland-Eastern Shore, 4-3 (Maryland-Eastern Shore eliminated)
    Match 8 * (3) Central Missouri State def. (7) Bethune-Cookman, 4-2 (Bethune-Cookman eliminated)

    Third Round
    Match 9 * (2) Fairleigh Dickinson def. (5) Alabama A&M, 4-3
    Match 10 * (8) New Jersey City def. (6) Vanderbilt, 4-0 (Vanderbilt eliminated)
    Match 11 * (1) Nebraska def. (3) Central Missouri State, 4-0 (Central Missouri State eliminated)

    Fourth Round
    Match 12 * (1) Nebraska def. (8) New Jersey City, 4-2 (New Jersey City eliminated)


    Vanderbilt finding success in only second year of program


    Currently, Vanderbilt University and the University of Nebraska are the only two of the 48 NCAA athletic programs offering women's varsity bowling hailing from the so-called "BCS" conferences.

    Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson wants other big-name schools to take notice of the potential women's bowling offers.

    "You hope with the success that Nebraska has had and the success we want to have you can get other SEC (Southeastern Conference) and Big 12 schools to add it," said Williamson. "Resource-wise, it doesn't take much money to start a program so it's a no-brainer from that standpoint."

    And it doesn't necessarily take long to find success as Williamson and his Commodores are finding out this weekend, competing in the 2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship in only the second year of Vanderbilt's program.

    Women's bowling was the logical sport of choice when Vanderbilt, which needed a 16th varsity program to meet newly implemented NCAA Division I-A membership requirements, added it for the 2004-05 season. Considering its location in Nashville's inner city, available land for a softball or equestrian team, for example, would've been at a premium as well as a steep financial cost.

    Williamson made a point to scour the United States in order to field a competitive team in a relative short time-frame.

    "I didn't want to trudge through it," said Williamson, who previously served as Vanderbilt's director of baseball operations prior to being appointed women's bowling head coach. "I wanted to win and I wanted to win quickly."

    He came back with a loaded squad represented by nine different states. Of the Commodores' 11-player roster, its five primary tournament bowlers are all freshmen. Michelle Peloquin of Enfield, Conn., leads the team with a 212 average over 64 games, the second highest in the NCAA.

    More help is one the way as part of next year's recruiting class, which includes Josie Earnest of Vandalia, Ill., a former Junior Team USA member and 2006 USBC Alberta E. Crowe Star of Tomorrow.

    "If you can attract that caliber of a player, it can only help down the road because those players are friends with other great players," Williamson said. "It's a process that just builds off each other."

    With the rapid growth of varsity bowling at the high school level, college bowling is likely to see an influx of new talent over the next several years. Williamson is optimistic more athletic departments will see the benefits bowling brings as well as the potential for early success.

    "With the exception of Nebraska, bowling is a sport that lacks true power in the NCAA level," Williamson said. "It's a sport you can get into quick and become successful if you work a little bit at it. There are a lot of good players out there and it can only get bigger."

    After a slow start Thursday where the Commodores found themselves in eighth place through three team games, Vanderbilt rallied during the afternoon's Baker session to grab the No. 6 seed heading into the Best-of-7 Baker games, double-elimination match play Friday.

    "It's been an eye-opening experience for our young kids," Williamson said. "This is something we can build on for the future."

    Nebraska takes top seed: Two-time defending champion Nebraska, ranked No. 1 in the National Tenpin Coaches Association poll, grabbed the top seed heading into match play for the third straight year - but needed to rally in order to do so.

    The Cornhuskers posted 7,773 during Thursday's qualifying portion at Emerald Lanes, which consisted of four five-player team games in the morning followed by 20 Baker games in the afternoon broken up into four five-game sets. It was just enough to hold off Fairleigh Dickinson, which led after the morning session thanks to senior Lisa Friscioni's field-best 877 (219.25 average) and junior Rebecca Ketcham's 806 (201.5).

    Nebraska won all eight tournaments it participated in this season, owning a 65-10 match play record.


    2006 NCAA National Collegiate Women's Bowling Championship

    Emerald Lanes in Houston, Texas (April 13-15, 2006)

    Thursday's Results
    (Four five-player team games plus 20 Baker games)

    1. Nebraska, 7,773
    2. Farleigh Dickinson, 7,568
    3. Central Missouri State, 7,477
    4. Maryland-Eastern Shore, 7,430
    5. Alabama A&M, 7,304
    6. Vanderbilt, 7,244
    7. Bethune-Cookman, 7,239
    8. New Jersey City, 7,138