North Carolina A&T's national championship quest ended Friday morning with a 2-0 loss to Nebraska in an elimination match at the NCAA Women's Bowling Championship in St. Louis.
The sixth seeded Aggies loss to the top seeded and defending champion Cornhuskers 1,012-947 in the traditional portion of the match.
“We’ve played well against Nebraska all season so I don’t think there was any fear,” said N.C. A&T coach Kim Terrell-Kearney after the Aggies came into the matchup 1-1 against the Cornhuskers during the regular season. “It was just a matter of we got out-bowled. There is a reason they are the No. 1 team in the country.”
The first format of the day was traditional team play where the Aggies had trouble with knocking down the 10-pin on spare attempts throughout the game. Nebraska took advantage by defeating the Aggies with a total pinfall of 1,012-947. N.C. A&T left 11 frames open during the game. On nine of those attempts, the 10-pin was left standing.
Sophomores Tyra Merritt and Mia Pope led the Aggies as each bowler posted a 210. Merritt who ended Thursday’s play with nine straight strikes opened Friday’s play with four straight strikes. Her streak of 13 straight strikes finally came to an end when she left the 10-pin up on frame No. 5. Pope left her first frame open and then converted four spares and five strikes before leaving her last frame open.
“I think we made some mental mistakes toward the middle part of the game that probably cost us in the end,” said Terrell-Kearney.
Down a game in the mega-match series, the Aggies then had to face the Cornhuskers in Bakers competition, a collection of five games where the team with the highest total pinfall takes the match.
The first two games were tight. The Cornhuskers defeated N.C. A&T 194-183 in Game 1. Freshman Cameron Strombeck kept the Aggies close from her anchor position with two strikes and a spare where she toppled the 8-pin. The second game was even closer with Nebraska winning 224-223. N.C. A&T got another strong performance from Strombeck who posted two strikes and a spare.
Then things took a turn for the worst. The Aggies headed into Game 3 only down by 12 total pins. But Nebraska had a superb Game 3 knocking down strikes in frames 4-9. Meanwhile, the Aggies left four frames open in a 245-166 defeat that put the Cornhuskers in strong command of the match.
“At any time during the season, especially here, you have to fill frames,” said Terrell-Kearney. “You have to stay present and let the mistakes stay in the past and move forward. I think if anything, we learned that. We let that game get away from us and that was the turning point in the match. We’ll get better at putting things behind us, and I think we got better at it throughout the year. There used to be a time when those mistakes ended in 130 and not 170. That means we’re getting better at letting it go and never giving up.”
N.C. A&T did win Game 4 201-182 before Nebraska officially advanced with a 213-172 win in Game 5 for a total pinfall victory of 1,058-945.
Three outstanding freshmen played a significant number of frames this season in Strombeck, MEAC rookie of the Year Ana Olaya and Candyce Bradley. Pope and Merritt were solid throughout the tournament. Merritt had a total pinfall average of 209.67 while Pope averaged 192. 5 over the final two rounds. Sophomore Kayli Christ and freshman Hannah Williams who sat out this season are also slated to return.
N.C. A&T ends their season at 79-59.
“It was a great first experience but hopefully we’ll be back here a few more times,” said Strombeck.