The McKendree University men’s bowling team showed a flair for the dramatic in capturing its first-ever national championship Saturday night by winning the 2016 Intercollegiate Team Championships held in Wichita, Kan.
The Bearcats dropped the first two games in a best-of-five Baker-format match to William Paterson University before rallying to sweep the last three games to claim the title. In the fifth and deciding game, McKendree registered a 200-188 win over the Warriors to set off a celebration on the Bearcats’ side of the lanes.
“I still don’t think this has struck me yet,” said McKendree men’s bowling coach Dennis Knepper following Saturday night’s championship match. “We talked yesterday about how resilient this team has been throughout the tournament. They showed it one more time tonight, and especially when they needed it the most. Early in the match, we were not bowling like I know we can and have been the last few days. We talked about letting the lanes come to us, to start taking things shot by shot.
“We got in a comfort zone over those last three games and stuck to our plan. I’m just so happy for these guys and what they’ve accomplished. They are bringing home a national championship to McKendree University.”
William Paterson opened the championship match by rolling past McKendree 223-138 in the first game. The Bearcats regrouped in the second contest, but the Warriors still managed a 202-181 triumph to build its two-game lead. At that point, McKendree began its comeback in game three with a 213-152 rout of William Paterson. The momentum continued to shift in the Bearcats’ favor in game four by knotting the match thanks to a 225-190 win.
I’m just so happy for these guys and what they’ve accomplished. They are bringing home a national championship to McKendree University.
McKendree men’s bowling coach Dennis Knepper
The teams battled back and forth in the fifth and final game before the Bearcats were able to register its 12-pin victory over William Paterson. The win gave McKendree its first national championship in men’s bowling, and the second title overall for a Bearcat bowling squad. The women’s program earned an NAIA Invitational crown back in 2011.
Seniors Riley Smith, Shawn Bibee and Ryan Patterson were part of the only other McKendree men’s team to reach the championship match of an ITC event back when the trio were freshmen in 2013. Smith says the group made it a priority to return to the national championship event, and to earn a title. After Saturday’s victory, he says things have come full circle.
“This is so satisfying, not only for me but for all the people associated with McKendree bowling,” said Smith. “We talked about getting back to the finals at some point in our career and finishing it this time. Tonight, we were able to do that. Our guys worked so hard from day one, and we wanted to leave everything out there on the lanes. Even when we were down 0-2 tonight, we had the confidence we could do it. I can’t believe it. We’re national champs!”
Smith, Bibee and Patterson were joined by sophomores Billy Goodman, Ryan Mooney, James Stanley and Greg Young, and freshman Alex Martin on the championship squad for McKendree.
Following the finals on Saturday, Smith and Young were named to the Intercollegiate Team Championships All-Tournament Team.