There is no point to downplaying this season for the Wichita State men's bowling team. Senior Josh Blanchard won't bother.
"I think this could be the best team ever assembled in college bowling history," Blanchard said. "Talent-wise, this is the most credentials of any team we've ever had and the best work ethic I've ever seen in any group of guys in my entire life."
WSU's women's team is in the same place. Both teams are defending national champions and both return most of their lineups. Both added talent with international credentials. The Shockers open their season this weekend in the Mid-States Tournament at Northrock Lanes. When the season ends at the USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships in April, both expect to be No. 1.
That would not surprise Florida State coach Michael Fine, who coached at Kansas for 19 years. While it's early to anoint the men's team the best in college bowling history, WSU's confidence isn't outrageous.
"It's not bragging if it's true," Fine said. "They've got everything in place to make that statement."
The men's team will try to win its third straight national title with eight returners, including All-Americans Blanchard and John Szczerbinski. The women's team has seven returners, including four seniors.
Coach Gordon Vadakin is more concerned with the present than measuring his team against history. Before the men's team can assess its place among the best, a lot of bowling balls must find their way to the pins. His job is to help talented individuals bowl as a team.
"Is that potential there? Yes, I would say it's there," he said. "But it's not what we're focusing on."
Blanchard and Szczerbinski are at the top of their games, Vadakin said. In addition to the players back from 2008-09, Brent Bowers and Erik Gulbrandson are bowling after taking a year off. Both bowled for WSU's 2008 champions. Freshman Marcus Berndt is a member of Sweden's national team.
Nine of the 12 men's bowlers own international experience.
"We have such good talent," Szczerbinski said. "It's going to be pretty hard for other people to beat us, as arrogant as that sounds. We're very confident in where we are."
The women's team is also loaded with college and international experience. Seniors Daniela Alvarado, Mariana Ayala, Sandra Gongora, the women's Collegiate Bowler of the Year, and Rocio Restrepo helped WSU win a national title in 2007 and finish second in 2008.
"We're leaning on them very heavily," Vadakin said.
Junior Maggie Zakrzewski won the U.S. Junior Amateur in July. Freshman Jazreel Tan is a six-time member of Singapore's national team.
"It's a nice mix of new players and experienced players," Vadakin said. "We've got the potential, in both groups, to do well this year. But what we did last year was so extraordinarily difficult and so rare — we could have an awesome year in the regular season and who knows what happens in the national tournament."