By Roderick M. Wilbon, Sports Editor
The National Collegiate Athletic Association 2018 Bowling Championship was held in St. Louis, Missouri at Tropicana Lanes, April 12 through 15. The weekend was intense; no team was safe, and the crowd was swarming. None of that mattered to Vanderbilt though, who faced every challenge and beat all the odds. This included defeating the favorite, the home team, red-hot McKendree in the finals.
Coming into the tournament, Vanderbilt ranked fourth and were at a point of unraveling. Head Coach John Williamson didn’t know how to gear his team up to take on the championship. He decided to employ some tactics, most notably from former NBA Head Coaches Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. Phil Jackson was known as the Zen master, and Pat Riley was known to use imagery as tools to mentally gear up players. Williamson employed reverse psychology.
“I told the team no one expects us to do anything in this tournament,” Williamson said. “So just go out there and play.”
Vanderbilt beat Sam Houston State in the first round of the tournament before taking on the always-tough Nebraska in the second round. Sam Houston won their elimination game to face Vanderbilt once more in the fourth round. Sam Houston beat them the second go-around, to tie the series against one another. The teams played a tie breaker – a sudden death matchup in the fifth round. McKendree already won outright and was waiting on the winner of the match for the finals.
The deciding match between Vanderbilt and Sam Houston was a knockdown, drawn-out fight, taking both teams to the brink. Vandy prevailed though, and four hours later, they took on McKendree in the finals live on ESPNU. In the best-of-seven format McKendree busted the gates open with a 3-2 lead. Maria Bulanova, arguably Vanderbilt’s best player, was not having the greatest game. Katie Stark, senior, fell in the first frame, but she continued to bowl nothing but strikes afterward. Finally, in Game 6 Maria Bulanova bowled a strike in the 10th frame to force a Game 7.
McKendree started shrinking under the immense pressure and could not keep up with Vanderbilt in Game 7. Vandy bowled four straight strikes to start the game, setting the tone for the rest of the match. The large McKendree crowd became quieter and quieter, and that was the end of McKendree. Vanderbilt won its second NCAA bowling championship and second for Head Coach John Williamson.