For Bearkat bowling head coach Brad Hagen, the return of Sam Houston State to the NCAA Women’s Bowling Division I National Championship means just one thing.
“This is about redemption,” Hagen said Wednesday March 27 when the NCAA announced the eight team field for the 2013 NCAA Women’s Bowling Division I National Championship April 11-13 at the Super Bowl Complex in Canton, Michigan.
In 2011, Sam Houston became the first inaugural program to earn a berth in the national tournament. But in 2012, the Bearkats just missed making a return trip. Now the Kats are back.
“Missing out of the NCAA last year was tough,” Hagen said. “This season the girls came back with an attitude that they wanted to prove exactly what we were capable of. We set our goal on returning to the NCAA and did just the right things to get there.”
Sam Houston finished seventh in their first trip to the NCAA in 2011 and stood No. 9 in the final intercollegiate rankings in 2012. This year, however, the Kats are the No. 6 seed in the event.
Central Missouri, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Nebraska, Arkansas State and Vanderbilt are seeded one through five ahead of the Bearkats. Wisconsin-Whitewater and Fairleigh Dickinson are the seven and eight seeds.
During the 2012-13 season Sam Houston has compiled an overall record of 97 victories and 36 losses. That includes a 39-26 record against teams in the top 20. The Bearkats have posted 15 wins against the other seven teams in the NCAA field this year.
The NCAA Elite Eight begins Thursday April 11 with qualifying rounds 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-games Baker matches in a double elimination tournament. In the Baker format, each of the five team members, in order, bowls a complete frame until a complete (10-frame) game is bowled. A Baker match tied 3½ games to 3½ games after seven games will be decided by a tiebreaker using the Modified Baker format.
The championship finals will air on ESPNU Saturday, April 13 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. A tape delay broadcast of the championship finals will air on ESPN Sunday, April 14 from 2 - 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
The head coach believes the best-of-seven baker format favors the Bearkats. Sam Houston compiled a 19-9 record in Sunday best-of-seven baker play during the regular season.
“We finished strong in every tournament this year and set a school record with five tournament victories,” Hagen said. “Some of our top wins have come on Sunday’s in best-of-seven play.”
“This is absolutely amazing,” Neishka Cardona said. A junior, the Carolina, Puerto Rico native is one of only two current Bearkats who have been a member of all three Sam Houston bowling teams. “We really felt like we had a great season and expected to get in. But, about 30 minutes before the selection show, we were all nervous. Having been here the first year and getting to go to the NCAA, then missing last year, I really wanted to go back. And now we are.”
Cardona has been named all-tournament three times. She and her teammates posted tournament wins at the Tulane Invitational, the Alabama Hornet Classic, the Track Kat Clash in Huntsville, the Bowie State Classic and the Southern Intercollegiate.
Kimi Davidson, a junior from Azle, Texas, and the other student-athlete who has been part of each of the program’s three incredible seasons, felt a sense of redemption as well.
“We love the chance to go back to the NCAA,” Davidson said. “We have more motivation and experience this year. Having been there once before, we know we have to keep our emotions in check and stay focused on what we have to do.”
Davidson sports the team’s top NCAA total pins average (236.6) and has been named to all-tournament teams in five events this year.
For the team’s only senior, Michelle Secours of Brockport, New York, NCAA selection day was truly special. Five minutes before the NCAA selection announcement, Secours learned that she had been accepted into Sam Houston’s prestigious clinical psychology program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“What an afternoon,” Secours said. “In a 10 minute span two dreams came true. There is a huge emphasis on succeeding academically as well as athletically here at Sam Houston. To learn that I’ll be representing the university at a major national championship and then have the opportunity to continue my education here is thrilling.”
Secours earned all-tournament honors at the Bearkats' most recent tournament in Tennessee hosted by Vanderbilt.
Hagen had set a goal of 100 dual match victories for the 2012-13 season and the Bearkats came close with a total of 97.
“This year, it’s not just about getting into the tournament,” Hagen said. “We have more experience on this team and more depth. Now we need to concentrate on getting the job done at the national tournament.”