A journey which began in February 2009 with the introduction of the women’s bowling program to the Valparaiso University athletics department took a giant step forward on Wednesday, as the Crusaders learned they were one of eight programs selected to compete at the 2012 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship in Wickliffe, Ohio on April 12-14. The bid is Valpo’s first to the national championship in just the third year of program existence.
“I’m very excited that our bowling team will be competing for the university’s first national championship in any sport,” said Valpo director of athletics Mark LaBarbera. “When we started the program, we were confident given the popularity of bowling in this region, combined with the quality of our institution, that we’d be able to recruit skilled bowlers that would be competitive at the highest level nationally. I give a lot of credit to Stephen Anthony, our first coach and the one who got the program off the ground, as well as our current coach, Matt Nantais, and all our bowlers who have worked extremely hard to earn the opportunity to compete for the national title.”
Valparaiso (81-37) opened the season ranked 18th nationally in the NTCA Coaches Poll, but vaulted to #1 in the nation after winning the Greater Ozark Invitational and the Crusader Classic, before finishing third at the Hawk Classic. The Crusaders have remained ranked among the country's top-eight squads ever since, finishing above .500 at all but one of their nine tournaments this season, and are ranked sixth in the latest iteration of the coaches poll.
“When I interviewed for the coaching position last summer, I told the team that we were going to go to the national championship this year,” said Nantais. “After we started practicing and bowled our first tournament of the year and the bowlers saw how they were able to bowl together as a true team, I think it changed the team’s outlook and made them believe that they could get to the championship. They’ve bought into the system and have worked hard to get to this point, and we look forward to focusing and taking this tournament just like every other one this season.”
Competition at the national championship begins with qualifying rounds on Thursday, April 12, in which each team bowls one five-person regular team game against each of the other seven teams participating in the championship for a total of seven games. Teams will be seeded for bracket play based on their win-loss record during the qualifying rounds.
Teams will then compete in best-of-seven baker matches in a double elimination tournament beginning on Friday morning, April 13. In the Baker format, each of the five team members, in order, bowls a complete frame until a complete 10-frame game is bowled. This year’s championship finals will air on ESPNU at 7 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 14, with a replay of the championship finals on ESPN at 1:30 p.m. CDT Sunday, April 15.
“It means everything to us to be able to go to the national championship this year,” said senior Krystyna Johnson, one of six members of the 2011-2012 Crusader squad who have been with the program since its inception. “We’re excited to have the chance to compete for the title, and it’s great to finally see all the hard work we’ve put in mean something. We know going in that we have great team chemistry, and that gives us the confidence no matter what position we’re in to know that we can do great things.”
The Crusaders will be joined at the championship event by Arkansas State, Central Missouri, Fairleigh Dickinson, Maryland Eastern Shore, Nebraska, Sacred Heart and Vanderbilt, a group which contains all eight previous national champions, as well as seven of the previous eight runner-up squads.