The Valparaiso University bowling team made school history this week, becoming the first athletic program to earn a #1 ranking nationally as the Crusaders ascended to the top of the National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) December coaches poll.
“I am still in shock we jumped as high as we did, because I was thinking we would be around 7 or 8 in this poll,” said Crusader head coach Matt Nantais. “Coming into this year, I knew we had the talent to be a competitive team and that the key was getting the team to work as a team, supporting each other no matter what. They have done that this year. We have had up and downs and learned from each of them, and I am very proud of each and every one of our team members. We have a tough second half coming up with four tournaments in a row to start us off. The team is ready to get back on the lanes to compete.”
Valpo leapfrogged up to the #1 spot from #18 in the preseason poll, setting a new poll record for largest improvement from one poll to the next. The Crusaders received eight of the 23 available first-place votes and totaled 582 points, edging Fairleigh Dickinson (six first-place votes, 580 points) by a mere two points. Sacred Heart and Maryland Eastern Shore each received four first-place votes and were ranked third and fourth, respectively, while Sam Houston State rounded out the top five.
Valpo earned the #1 national ranking after strong performances against top competition in their first three tournaments of the season. The Crusaders started the year with a program record 10 consecutive victories at the Greater Ozark Invitational en route to the first official tournament title in program history. Valpo then made it back-to-back titles by capturing their own Crusader Classic, and most recently finished third at the 19-team Hawk Classic against a field that included most of the nation’s top teams.
“I am extremely proud of our bowling program for earning Valpo's first number 1 national ranking,” said Crusader athletic director Mark LaBarbera. “When we started our program three years ago, we did so with the goal of being competitive at the highest level nationally. This year’s team has truly done that through their first three tournaments. Coach Nantais and the women on the team have competed exceptionally on the lanes so far this year while being great representatives of the University. We look forward to their continued success in the remainder of this season.”
The Crusaders currently own a 30-8 record on the season, including an impressive 15-4 mark against the top-10 teams in the current poll. Valparaiso returns to the lanes as the nation’s top-ranked team on Friday, January 13, as the Crusaders begin four consecutive weekends of competition at the Mid-Winter Invitational, hosted by Arkansas State.