WICKLIFFE, Ohio – The NCAA Championships will get underway on Thursday at Rollhouse Wickliffe, in a suburb of Cleveland. While the Kats have travelled more than 1,200 miles to compete for a second national championship, their opening round opponent is a familiar one.
Sam Houston enters as the No. 4-ranked team in the country and will have a first-round matchup with Stephen. F. Austin. The sixth-ranked Lumberjacks had to survive a play-in match last week against Prairie View A&M to qualify for a spot at the championship site.
“It is certainly a team we are familiar with, but we haven’t faced them head to head since we were at their event a few months ago,” said head coach Brad Hagen. “At this stage of the season, everyone you face is going to be a tough test, but the fact that it’s such a big rivalry between these two schools adds a little something when we meet on the national stage like this.”
While the opponent is a familiar one for the entire Bearkat team, the facility holds a special memory for Hagen. Rollhouse Wickliffe, then called The Game of Wickliffe, was the site of the 2014 national championship where Hagen and the Bearkats claimed the school’s first Division I national title.
“There are a lot of memories coming back here, and one of our goals this season was getting back to Cleveland to defend that 2014 title here,” Hagen said. “But now that we are here, that’s not part of the conversation. This team is here to write their own history.”
The Bearkats were selected as one of the four automatic bids to the finals site and a big part of earning that bid was winning the Southland Bowling League championship two weeks ago. The Bearkats beat Vanderbilt, who enters this week as the No. 1 overall seed, twice including the championship match to claim the title. Freshman Bea Hernandez said that gives the team a confidence boost heading into this weekend.
“As soon as we won it we knew that as a team we could do anything together,” Hernandez said. “It says a lot about our team, because from the first half of the year, our team has definitely matured. We are going to treat this the same way we treated conference.”
While it is a young team with five underclassmen on a roster of eight, six of the bowlers have NCAA Championship including Madysen Keller who is competing in her fourth and Lynne Fishler her third.
Fishler has said she thinks her and Keller’s experience can help this week.
“We’ve just told them, we have to stay calm and do whatever you did before,” Fishler said. It’s no different than any other Friday, Saturday or Sunday that we have bowled this season. We just have to keep fighting until the end.”