Hawks earn NCAA berth as encore to MEAC crown
PRINCESS ANNE, Maryland -
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore got the news it was waiting for on Wednesday afternoon as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champion bowling team earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
“You can say that this is the whole year worth of work that we put in,” graduate student Thashaina Seraus (Oranjestad, Aruba) said. “This is one of the main goals we wanted to accomplish. Of course, USBCs too, but this is the one that we really fought for over three years and finally we made it.”
As the NCAA released the competing teams one-at-a-time on a live webcast, the silence was only broken in fits and starts. The bowlers, stood or sat around a conference table, with phones in hand or clinging to the hand of a teammate.
When the eighth and final berth was announced, the screams came and three years’ worth of tension left the room.
“We are ecstatic,” junior Melanie Copey (Ontario, New York) said. “It means everything to Thashaina and I. There was a loss for words and we were just in tears.”
Copey practically tackled Seraus sending the two of them flying into a helium tank in the corner of the room and to the floor. The tears flowed all around the room and family was called.
“I felt a lot of butterflies obviously leading up to this,” Copey said. “I couldn’t eat a lot. I was nervous. I just really wanted to make this.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Seraus said. “I had to keep myself occupied the whole day and be around my teammates and try and share this day with them.”
The team had practiced Wednesday morning from 7-9, but by 1:50 p.m., Seraus was leaving class and was so antsy that she went straight to the bowling center until almost time for the announcement, when the team met in the Hytche Athletic Center conference room.
“Last night I texted the girls in preparation for today, just letting them know that I was proud of where we came from, where we are now and where we are going,” fourth-year head coach Kayla Bandy said. “They worked hard the entire season and today wasn’t going to define us whether they listed our name or they didn’t it wouldn’t change my opinion of what we have done this season.”
The disappointment of the last two announcements was never far from the minds of the two most veteran members of the squad, but six other bowlers experienced the disappointment at this time last season as freshmen.
The Hawks (84-39, 19-5 MEAC) will now travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the NCAA Championships (April 13-15) at the Raising Cane’s River Center after being one of the eight teams to receive an invitation.
Eastern Shore hadn’t been to the NCAA Championships since 2014, when it finished third behind San Houston State and Nebraska.
After getting left out of the event last season, the Hawks did what they could to help ensure a spot for the maroon and grey. They got hot at the right time of year and finished by winning 29 of their last 33 games including a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.
“I think after winning the MEAC, we are confident,” Seraus said. “The only thing we need to work on is the nerves, which improved at MEACs. I think that comes with practice now that we know we will be gone for 10 days after we have two weeks to work in practice. I think right now we have all the tools we need as a team to win.”
The Hawks have won the NCAA Championship three times: 2008, 2011 and 2012. The program also boasts two USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships: 2011 and 2013.
The last time the team competed in a national championship was last season, when it finished third at the USBC Championship. All but three members of this year’s squad competed in that event.
“We have to treat this tournament the same as the USBC one,” Seraus said. “We just need to go in there and not expect anything and just bowl. My advice to them is to be passionate, bowl your heart and have fun because it’s going to go quick.”
Joining the Shore in the NCAA’s bowling finale are: Nebraska, McKendree, Arkansas State, Sam Houston State, Vanderbilt, Fairleigh Dickinson and Stephen F. Austin.
It’s a stout group to be sure, but the Hawks are ready.
“This time last year, we were at an incredibly low point emotionally and physically,” Bandy said. “We were just beat up, but I’m incredibly thankful for that moment now. Those trials made today so much sweeter. The feeling in that room was even more emotional than the MEC Championship was.”
Competition begins April 13 with qualifying rounds in which each team bowls one five-person regular team game against each of the other seven participating teams. Teams will be seeded for bracket play based on their win-loss record during the qualifying rounds. At the conclusion of the qualifying rounds, teams will then compete in best-of-seven Baker matches in the double elimination tournament bracket play.
“I think that last years’ experience at USBCs was really healthy for the team getting to see a championship at least” Bandy said. “But the MEAC Championships were taped by ESPN and we have a group of bowlers that hadn’t performed on a telecast up to this point. So, they were successful there and our girls are pretty resilient because of what they have been through to get to where they are now.”
The championship final will air on ESPNU April 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Eastern Shore is fresh off a MEAC crown they won on Sunday. The Hawks topped North Carolina A&T The championship match was recorded and will be televised via tape-delay on ESPNU on Sunday, April 2 at 9 p.m. Reliving that moment this weekend will come as part of the preparation for the next challenge.
“We are on a high because we just won MEAC Championships and we are going to the NCAA’s,” Copey said. “We are going up against some big teams, but I know we have an amazing team, so I’m excited and I think we are ready to go to Baton Rouge.”
They already have a spot secured at the USBC Championships (April 20-22), so the Hawks will spend two straight weeks in Baton Rouge for competition.
“We could have been better in moments though out the season,” Bandy said. “We were really great at others. But I think that the way we finished the season is indicative of where we are going in the next few weeks.”
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