Randy York's N-Sider
Beginning Thursday and ending Saturday at Lincoln’s Sun Valley Lanes, Nebraska will host the best women’s bowling team in the country – Arkansas State – in the Big Red Invitational. Wait … is Arkansas State ranked No. 1 in the latest national poll? No, because Nebraska is ranked No. 1. Why? Because the Huskers beat Vanderbilt last spring in Michigan for the NCAA championship.
“We’re ranked first, but it's just a popularity contest," Bill Straub said. “The best team in the country right now is Arkansas State. They’re one of eight teams competing here this week, and they’re good … real good.” But better than Nebraska, which returns four of six starters from its national championship team? “We’re not real good yet, but hopefully we will be sometime,” Straub said, pausing to explain how “sometime” is most likely to come well after this fall’s last tournament and stretch all the way to the Music City Classic next March in Nashville and the NCAA Championships next April in Cleveland.
Straub Views Fall Season Like Spring Practice
Let’s set the record straight. Straub approaches collegiate bowling dramatically different than the vast majority of NCAA schools the Huskers compete against. He views fall like Nebraska sees spring football … as a time to work on fundamentals, improve skill sets and establish a lineup that gives the Huskers the best chance to win at the highest level. “We lost two starters who were All-Americans, and we’re trying to replace them with freshmen,” Straub said. “I’d like to think we’re going to be better next spring than we are now. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m not doing my job.”
At Nebraska, individual development trumps team competition every fall season. “Most schools start competition right away,” Straub said. “I’ve been told they see competition as the best way to build skill level. I’m not saying that’s wrong. The vast majority of schools have multiple tournaments in the fall while we limit our schedule to two tournaments. Personally, I’d rather skip the tournaments and hit the tackling dummies at home. We do heavy blocking, day in and day out. The only reason we schedule a couple tournaments in the fall is to give our girls the chance to play against somebody who wears a different colored jersey than they do.”
Huskers Return Four NCAA Title Team Starters
For most bowling schools, fall feels like the middle of the season. For Nebraska, it feels like spring training. The Huskers’ four returning starters for this week’s Big Red Invitational includes Andrea Ruiz, a junior from Bogota, Columbia; Bethany Hedley, a sophomore from Watford, England; Yan Ling, a senior from Singapore; and Lizabeth Kuhlkin, a junior from Schenectady, N.Y. Kuhlkin is the Huskers’ only returning first-team All-American. She was also named the NCAA Championship’s Most Valuable Bowler last April. April Campbell, a redshirt freshman from Bellevue, Neb., and Emily Nykiel, a redshirt freshman from Collierville, Tenn., fill the open spots, based on scrimmages and competition this fall. The three-day Big Red Invitational begins Thursday at 5 p.m., continues Friday at 10 a.m. and finishes Saturday beginning at 8 a.m.