In nearly a century of intercollegiate athletics at Sam Houston, the Bearkats have won eight national championships. The last title came in 1982 in softball.

Now, starting in 2011, a Bearkat team appears to have the potential to increase the university's national championship trophy collection to nine.

The opportunity comes in the university's newest sport - women's bowling.

Head coach Brad Hagen's squad of seven bowlers burst onto the NCAA Division I bowling scene this fall in spectacular fashion.

Playing in major intercollegiate tournaments in Missouri, Delaware and New Jersey, the Bearkats finished as runner-up in one event and third in two others.

The bowling team's fall record of 29 victories and only 12 losses includes 18 wins over teams listed in the National Tenpins Coaches Association 2010 preseason top 20.

Sam Houston has defeated nine of the top 10 teams including victories over defending NCAA champion and No. 1 ranked Fairleigh-Dickinson, 2008 national titlist and No. 2 Maryland-Eastern Shore and 2007 NCAA champion and No. 4 Vanderbilt.

"We certainly have gotten the attention of everyone in the college bowling world," Sam Houston head coach Brad Hagen said. "Our seven girls have done a tremendous job this fall. Our level of preparation, competitive nature and NCAA record prove that we are not just another first year program. Now we are gearing up for the second half of the season. We want to remain on course towards our goal of the NCAA championship in Detroit in April. We've turned heads, but we still have to go out prove we're a contender."

Hagen, a U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC) Silver certified coach with more than 15 years of competitive experience at the regional and national level, joined the Bearkat staff on July 1, 2009. The native of upstate New York hit the ground running, recruiting all over the country to build a team.

"We went looking for quality over quantity," Hagen said. "We wanted women who understand the importance of academics and the ability to learn, adapt and retain information on and off the lanes."

Hagan also has succeeded in building corporate relationships for the new team that will aid the program find success. The Bearkats are sponsored by Track bowling, a brand of Ebonite International, Inc., and Turbo Grips, a bowling accessories company.

"We look for Track and Turbo Grips to be key influences in our present and future success," Hagen said. "It's exciting to have influential companies be a part of our vision and growth from the beginning and I believe the synergy is a perfect fit."

The Sam Houston bowling team opened its first season with a victory over rival Stephen F. Austin at the International Bowling Training and Research Center in Arlington.

"Starting the program's history with a win over our  arch rival was a tremendous motivational factor," Hagan said. "As one of the first events in the new Arlington facility, it also brought Sam Houston major exposure in the bowling world. I'm so proud of how are team has performed on the national stage."

The inaugural Sam Houston bowling squad consists of Texans Lisa Cummins, Kimi Davidson and Lisa MacAllister; Florida's Dayna Galganski; New Yorker Shaina Woolbaugh; Neishka Cardona of Puerto Rico and Aida Sanchez of the Domincan Republic.

The bowling squad has earned a reputation not only for success on the lanes but also as strong supporters for the other 16 sports teams at Sam Houston State.

"Every home game, unless they're at a tournament, the bowling team is in the stands giving their support," associate athletic director for student services Chris Thompson said. "These young ladies have embraced the college experience and are having a great time."

Galganski, a junior from West Palm Beach, Fla., who was a gold medalist at the 2009 Tournament of the Americas, loves the college game.

 "The biggest difference between intercollegiate bowling and playing as an individual is having six teammates right there with you, rooting for you and giving encouragement," Galganski said. "The whole team spirit thing is great. One of the best things about Sam Houston State is all the activities. It's great going with my teammates to events like Firefest and Homecoming and supporting our other sports teams. It's exciting and fun."

Competition in tournaments across the country makes up the Bearkats' schedule. During the spring semester, Sam Houston will travel to Arkansas, Nebraska, Alabama and Tennessee seeking to earn a berth in the NCAA championships April 14-16 in Detroit.

There are two types of team matches at the tournaments. One day, teams will play traditional matches with each individual's scores combined for a team total to decide the result. Squads also meet in Baker format matches that are like a tennis dual match or match play in golf. The bowlers square off in one-on-one match-ups with the first team to win four of the pairings declared the winner.

Results from the first two days of competition are used to determine seeding for the final day with the top four teams battling for the championship. This fall, Sam Houston qualified for the top grouping each of the finals competitions.

"In bowling, strikes are fun but spares win," Galganski said. "We've set getting the NCAA nationals as a team goal and so far we're on track to get there."

Next action for the Sam Houston women's bowlers will be the Mid-Winter Invitational begining Jan. 14 at Cabot, Arkansas.