The 2014 MEAC Champions!

March 23, 2014

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. - It was a long and tiring day at the AMF Lanes in Chesapeake, Va. but in the end, the nation's third-ranked team from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) won their second-straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Championship over the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Rattlers, four games to three.

The seven-game grueling match was the second of the day for the Hawks and the third for the Rattlers. FAMU bested North Carolina A&T in the semi-finals, 4-0, to earn a spot against the top-seeded Hawks. The Rattlers were feisty all day. They defeated UMES 4-3 in the first match, forcing a second best-of-seven Baker game match in the double elimination format.

"It feels good to win my first MEAC Championship with these eight girls," said head coach Kayla Bandy. "They have worked so hard preparing for this tournament, even though it showed more so on Friday and Saturday. They still were able to grind through the adversity today."

The two teams bowled for over six hours, tallying 14 gamesm before the Hawks soared away in the seventh and final game to win the title.

The match was taped for a delayed broadcast on ESPNU on March 31 at 10:30 p.m. While the teams, fans, crew and staff were exhausted at the end of the day, the toughest job will come from the editing department of ESPNU who will have to condense the six-hour plus match down to less than two hours for broadcast.

Sure to be broadcast will be the seventh and final game of the second match where UMES pulled away for the win. Justyne Falbo (Greensburg, Pa.) bowled lead-off for the Hawks and the freshman hung tough, opening the match with a strike. Valerie Riggin (Vista, Calif.) bowled second and tossed a spare to put the Hawks out in front as FAMU opened the first two frames of the game.

Tatiana Munoz (Ibague Tolima, Colombia) was the Hawks third bowler and also opened but senior Megan Buja (Rockford, Ill.) got things back on track with a strike. While FAMU spared in the third for their first mark, they split in the fourth and left it open, which Buja took advantage of. Mariana Alvarado (Leon, Mexico) anchored for the Hawks and spared the fifth while Katherine Jones, the FAMU anchor, who was on all day, tossed a strike.

On the back five frames UMES would stay clean with spares from Falbo, Riggin and Munoz. FAMU opened the sixth, seventh and eighth frames, presenting the senior Buja with a golden opportunity. She could put the match to bed with a mark. She just missed the strike but a nine-spare would do and FAMU could not catch the Hawks. UMES would go on to take the game 182-130 and the match 4-3.

The win gives UMES their seventh conference title in women's bowling.

The game would be FAMU's lowest tally of the day against the Hawks and was not indicative of their play. The sixth-seeded Rattlers, who bowled superb Baker matches all tournament long, gave UMES everything they could handle and more. They pushed UMES to their limit before the tournament tested Hawks pulled away for the win.

Maryland Eastern Shore knew it would be a tough day from the opening game of match one when they lost 198-129. That was their lowest Baker game tally of the season, worse than the previous low, 145, by 16 pins.

Their best game of the day was a 245 in game four of the first match. They would only top 200 one more time, a 218 in the fourth game of the second match, a very uncharacteristic day for the defending USBC Collegiate National Champions.

"We just weren't making great shots as a team today," said Bandy. "So I tried to arrange the lineup based on who was in the pocket the most. We used the 10th frame on several occasions to start preparing for the next game. The lanes were tough for us today but we worked through it slowly, physically and mentally."

UMES used numerous line-up changes throughout the day and changed balls several times. At one point Buja was bowling anchor, Riggin was leading off and Alvarado was anywhere between second and fourth.

"We stayed positive and kept fighting until the very last shot," said Alvarado. "We overcame a lot of adversity today and we are happy with the end result."

Alvarado was named the MEAC Championship Most Outstanding Player and an All-Tournament Team selection. Buja, a senior, who won her third MEAC title in her last chance, was also named to the All-Tournament Team. Head Coach Kayla Bandy was named the MEAC Championship's Most Outstanding Coach.

"It's amazing to have won three MEAC Championships in my career," said Buja. "Today was a roller coaster but we stuck together and never gave up. This just shows how determined we were to win."

Joining Alvarado and Buja on the All-Tournament Team was Jones of Florida A&M, Thea Aspiras of Norfolk State and Emily Strombeck of North Carolina A&T.

Buja and the Hawks will now await the NCAA Selection Show on Wednesday, March 26 at 4:00 p.m. to see if they have secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament. A nod will be UMES' 11th straight selection in all 11 years of the event.

Either way they will defend their USBC Collegiate title later in April in Reno, Nev.

"We learned a lot from today's marathon bowling," said Bandy. "While we had a couple of girls used to the TV lights and the pace, I think it prepared us as a team, mentally and physically for the upcoming national championships."



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