Nebraska celebrated its fourth NCAA women's bowling championship with its nationally televised victory over Vanderbilt at Super Bowl Lanes in Canton, Mich., April 13.
The Huskers, who have captured four national titles in the first 10 seasons the NCAA has sanctioned a championship dating back to 2003, used a youthful roster to cap its decade of dominance with another crown. Although Nebraska claimed the first two NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005, and added a third in 2009, the 2013 Huskers were NU's youngest group to bring a title home to Lincoln.
Nebraska's lone senior, Kristina Mickelson from Bellevue, Neb., notched a 224.8 average and clinched the national championship for the Huskers against the Commodores with her strike in the second-to-last frame of the sixth game.
She took the Huskers' success one step further one week later, when she returned to Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln to win the X-Bowling Intercollegiate Singles Championship. Mickelson's run to an individual national title included a perfect game in the second round, and a perfect game into the 10th frame in her championship match victory. She finished with a 289-223 win over Wichita State's Tannya Rournimper.
While Mickelson will be missed in 2014, Nebraska Coach Bill Straub said the Huskers' 2013 team title could be a stepping stone for his continually growing Husker program.
"The cupboard certainly is not bare," Straub said. "We have an opportunity with people who have been working hard and continuing their development, to move up as others graduate. It appears that is the situation we are in heading into the future. We are quite lucky."
Straub later added that there is truly no place like Nebraska, and he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “There is no place like Nebraska; it’s so special around here.” Straub said, “Our players, assistant coach Paul Klempa and myself are treated without regard with what sport we play, it’s something where it is one big happy family that we are happy to be a part of.”
NCAA Championships MVP Liz Kuhlkin led the way for the Huskers at the national tournament. The sophomore from Schenectady, N.Y., rolled a 219.8 average at the NCAA Championships to power the Huskers. Kuhlkin, a National Tenpin Coaches Association first-team All-American in 2013, was joined on the NCAA All-Tournament Team by fellow sophomore Elise Bolton. The native of Merritt Island, Fla., posted a 211 average for the Huskers at the tournament, and went on to claim third-team NTCA All-America honors.
With Nebraska providing the individual star power on the lanes, the Huskers helped take women's collegiate bowling into more homes than ever before in 2013. The NCAA championship match against Vanderbilt was televised live nationally by ESPNU, and the drama created by the intensity of the head-to-head matchup was undeniable.
“I think this title has gained more recognition than previous ones, and I think there are a couple of things in connection with that,” Straub said, “The two teams that made the finals are two of the most recognizable teams in the sport today. I think the event itself also helped. You had a real good look at a battle between two really good teams that was neck-to-neck the whole way.”
Before the Huskers were able to raise their ninth national title under Coach Straub (4 NCAA, 5 International Bowling Congress), the season began with some adversity. Mickelson suffered an elbow injury in a car accident that limited her preseason training, and left the Huskers without the presence of their lone senior on the lanes.
However, by the time Nebraska opened regular-season competition at the Crusader Classic in Valparaiso, Ind., Nov. 9-11, Mickelson was back in action. With Mickelson at less than 100 percent, the Huskers finished third at the Crusader Classic. Kuhlkin stepped up for NU and opened her All-America season with a team-best 230.6 average that included a 266 high game.
The Huskers added a fifth-place finish at the Track Kat Klash in Huntsville, Texas, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, before taking nearly a month off from competition for winter break. Bolton led the Huskers with her 204.6 average, while Mickelson added a 203.2 average.
In the first two tournaments of the spring semester, the Huskers took their games to a higher level. Nebraska captured its first tournament title of the season at the Mid-Winter Invitational in Jonesboro, Ark. The Huskers dominated the tournament, going 10-3 overall in team Baker format.
Kuhlkin led the way for the Big Red with a team-best 218.8 average and a 1,094 total pinfall to capture fourth individually. Mickelson also continued to come back strong from her early season injury, posting a 214 average to finish sixth.
The Huskers continued their winning ways at the Prairie View A&M in Arlington, Texas, Feb. 2-4. Nebraska stifled Maryland Eastern Shore 4-1 in the final match, capping a tremendous three-day performance. NU went 11-2 in Baker format, and Kuhlkin claimed all-tournament honors with her 209.8 average.
After back-to-back tournament titles, the Huskers added a third-place finish at the 28-team James Brown Invitational in Baltimore, Md., Feb. 15-17. Nebraska finished third in competition with a 9-3 record in Baker format. Kuhlkin led the way again for NU with her 202 average, finishing 12th in the individual standings.
The Huskers continued to build momentum for an NCAA title run with another tournament title at the Central Missouri Women's Collegiate Invitational, March 1-3. Nebraska swept the field by going 12-0 in Baker format and posted a season-best 1,052.6 team game average for a 207.6 individual average.
Kuhlkin claimed her first individual title with a staggering 238 at Central Missouri. Mickelson continued to play at a high level with a 218 average that placed her fourth overall and earned her a spot on the all-tournament team. Bolton added a top-10 finish by taking eighth (208.8), while sophomore Andrea Ruiz finished 13th (202.6).
In the Huskers' final tuneup for the NCAA Tournament, NU took fourth among 29 teams at the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., March 15-17. In a field that included 18 of the nation's top 20 teams, the Huskers held their own while saving their best for their final tournament of the year.
NU then traveled to the NCAA Women’s Bowling Championships in Canton Mich., at Super Bowl Lanes, but before the Huskers faced-off against Vanderbilt, Nebraska had to make it through the qualifying round and the elimination round first.
The Huskers earned the No. 1 overall seed after the qualifying round of the tournament, and then made quick work of their opponents in the elimination round. Nebraska steam rolled Central Missouri, Maryland Eastern Shore and Arkansas State all 4-1 to advance to face Vanderbilt in the National Championship match.
Nebraska started off strong in game one of the National Championship versus Vanderbilt, with Bolton and junior Yan Ling each recording two strikes in both of their attempts. The game came down to the final frame with NU edging VU 211-199. Kuhlkin recorded two strikes in the 10th frame to seal the game for the Huskers.
Game two saw a see-saw battle on the lanes, with Nebraska taking a two-point lead at the midway break. Vanderbilt fought back to take the game, 197-186, despite leaving one open frame in the game.
Both the Huskers and Commodores came out sloppy in game three, leaving a combined five open frames during the game. Despite leaving two open, frames Vanderbilt posted a 169-156 victory. The Huskers only had a pinfall of 70 through five frames, recording back-to-back-to-back open frames.
VU came out on fire in the fourth game, opening with three straight spares and a strike. The Commodores left a, open frame to close out the fifth frame, as the Huskers capitalized. Kuhlkin recorded a clutch strike to keep the Huskers within one. NU fought back valiantly, as Bolton started it off with a strike in the sixth frame. The Huskers recorded three straight spares and a clutch strike by Kuhlkin in the 10th frame tied the game at 190. The resulting tie gave each team a half point to give Vanderbilt a 2.5-1.5 lead.
Nebraska got back on the winning track in the fifth game, beating Vanderbilt, 196-189, in a close battle throughout. Both Ling and Kuhlkin led the Huskers combining for three strikes on their four attempts. After a long drought throughout the tournament, sophomore Andrea Ruiz tallied her first strike of the championship match in the eighth frame to help the Huskers seal the victory.
In game six, the Huskers and Commodores gave the fans in Canton and on ESPNU a show, providing a see-saw battle through the first five frames before the Huskers took control. NU recorded a turkey, as Ling, Ruiz and Mickelson came up with consecutive strikes in the seventh through ninth frames to seal a 202-182 victory.
Nebraska kept the momentum going in the finale, marking in all 10 frames, including six consecutive strikes to post a 246-200 victory and earn the national title. The team huddled in tears overcome with joy celebrating their fourth NCAA title.