McKendree University capped a magical run Saturday at the 2016 NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Bowling Championship by making school history in the process.
The Bearcats advanced to the Final Four of bracket play on Saturday by defeating Arkansas State University 4-1 in a best-of-seven Baker format. McKendree then met the University of Nebraska – the defending NCAA champion – in an elimination contest. The Bearcats needed to defeat the Huskers twice to advance to reach Saturday night’s title match. After falling behind three games to one, McKendree rallied to win games five and six to force a deciding seventh game.
In a seventh game that went back and forth, Nebraska was able to post two marks in the 10th frame to register a 217-214 triumph that ended the Bearcats’ stay at the NCAA tournament.
“Our ladies did everything they could possibly do throughout the weekend,” said McKendree women’s bowling coach Shannon O’Keefe. “They did what they have been taught to do, they showed nerves of steel on many occasions, and they just stepped up and made unbelievable quality shots when they needed to. In the end, the pins just didn’t fall when we needed them to go down.”
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With its national semifinal finish, the McKendree women’s bowling program collected the first NCAA tournament trophy in school history. McKendree finished its transition to NCAA Division II membership in the summer of 2013. This was the Bearcats’ first appearance at the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship.
“This is something they have been dreaming about and working toward over the last few years,” said O’Keefe. “Of course, they wanted that trophy to be just a little bigger, but they are very proud of themselves, and they earned that right. After the shock of being knocked out of the tournament I told them they should hold their heads high, because they did everything they were supposed to do. But sometimes you just can’t change fate. I could not be more proud of them.”
Stephen F. Austin State University defeated Nebraska in the championship match Saturday evening to claim its first women's bowling national championship. After the title match, McKendree senior Samantha Hagerman was named to the five-member All-Tournament Team. In addition to making clutch shots for the Bearcats during their run to the Final Four, Hagerman finished 17th in the final individual standings at the NCAA Championship, averaging 205.6 over a seven-game block.
“I couldn’t be happier for Sammi,” said O’Keefe. “We actually had to pull her during the morning session on Day 2 (Friday) because she got a little out of synch. We wanted to get her on the practice lanes to work on her shot, and it really paid off. She got back into her groove and locked into that beast mode that she has been in all year. We knew she was going to do well and was one of the big reasons we had the success we did this weekend.”
McKendree still has one more tournament remaining this season, which will come next week at the Intercollegiate Team Championships. The four-day event will begin Wednesday in Wichita, Kan. O’Keefe said she is already looking forward to next week’s tournament.
“This experience (at the NCAAs) gives us unbelievable momentum heading into the ITCs,” said O’Keefe. “We’re only home for a few days of practice, and then we are off for another national championship experience. I know the ladies cannot wait to get back on the lanes after this week.”