The bright lights of television and the pressure of playing for a national championship can become too much for some bowling teams to handle.
Teams without Matt McNiel, anyway.
The Wichita State senior helped his teammates forget about the seriousness of their surroundings. After rolling a strike on his attempt on Saturday at Northrock Lanes, McNiel celebrated into the next lane, screaming and shuffling and pumping his fist.
The Shockers never seemed to feel tension in sweeping Midland (Neb.) 3-0 in a best-of-five series to claim the intercollegiate team championship, WSU’s first since 2010. WSU won 169-129, 275-167 and 210-168 for an average margin of victory of more than 63 pins.
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“There’s a lot that goes into these head-to-head matches,” McNiel said. “If I can jump around and get the crowd going and get the guys pumped up, yeah, I’m going to do that. Anything I can do to get these guys motivated and keep them loose, that’s what I’m going to do.”
WSU dominated the Baker format, in which five bowlers are designated to bowl two frames apiece, because of its unmatched depth.
Anchor bowler Francois Lavoie won the singles championship last year but is no more elite than any of his teammates.
Mitch Hupe, who bowled the second and seventh frames, had strikes on all six of his shots; McNiel is a USBC national record holder for bowling a 2,236 nine-game score in 2010 and AJ Chapman was one of three Shockers in the nation’s top 50 scorers this season.
“We have 11 guys on this team, and we want depth right up and down the lineup,” WSU coach Gordon Vadakin said. “We want everybody to be able to step in and do the job. We don’t look at anyone as a weak link. We want everybody to understand that they share the responsibility in whatever we create at the end of the year.”
The Shockers survived their worst score Saturday in the first game, overcoming three open frames because Midland left five open and didn’t have a strike.
On the same lane where Midland couldn’t figure out an oil pattern that caused the ball to turn sharply at the end, WSU had no trouble, striking on its first seven attempts and on 10 of 12 overall. The Shockers put game three away with four straight strikes prior to the 10th frame.
“Our strategy has been simple,” McNiel said. “It’s using good ball roll, good ball motion and hitting the pocket. We’re playing good, old-fashioned, grind-out bowling. That (second) game, it really came together for us because we made a lot of good shots.”
WSU’s men didn’t win a tournament this season until it took first in the sectional qualifier last month in Fort Worth. That followed the Shockers’ worst finish, a 17th-place showing in the Hoosier Classic that caused some soul searching that was resolved when WSU became determined to prove the performance was an outlier.
WSU qualified second among the 16 teams in this week’s double-elimination field and didn’t lose a match on the way to a championship spurred by McNiel’s animation that washed over his teammates.
“You can’t win without having fun,” Hupe said. “Every shot, we just tried to make the most fun out of it, trust each other, and that’s it – just have fun. That’s all it comes down to is just having fun.”
North Carolina A&T won the women’s team championship, beating Robert Morris (Ill.) 3-1 Saturday morning.
San Jose State’s Michael Tang won the men’s singles title, beating Meeco Walker of Notre Dame (Ohio) 259-174, and Emily Walker of Hastings (Neb.) beat Nebraska’s Julia Bond 237-182 in the women’s singles final.