March 26, 2012
DURHAM, N.C. - The ball would pound the pins with thunderous aplomb, and when it happened, so too would the Virginia State Trojans.
Strikes and spares, in any combination and order, would set off wild celebrations from the Trojans players, including the bowlers themselves as walked back to the erupting teammates.
Beside them, though, the Fayetteville State Lady Broncos continued about their business, paying those lofty cheers no mind. A strike was met with a firm, terse pairing of the lips. So was a spare. So was a miss.
"Coach (Bobby Henderson) always tells us, `Whatever you do, do it looking at the pins,'" said senior Kelly Wakerhauser. "We know what we're here to do, and that's to bowl."
The misses, it turns out, were few. Fayetteville State romped to its second straight CIAA Bowling Championship on Monday, drubbing upstart Virginia State 4-0 in the best-of-seven final Baker series to capture a league title for the third time in the last five years.
"I'm very excited," said Wakerhauser, who came to Fayetteville State from Portage. Wis. "I walked on here just hoping to find a school to bowl for, and now I'm leaving with two conference championships. It's amazing. I'm so proud of these girls."
The Lady Broncos (77-14), who needed just 46 minutes to dispatch the Trojans and claim the title, completed the 2012 CIAA Tournament at Durham's AMF Lanes with an 11-1 mark, showcasing the same kind of dominance the program has levied against the league for the last decade. Fayetteville State clinched its ninth straight division title last week and 11th in the last 12 years, and finished with 70 or more wins for the fifth time.
Fayetteville State was never beaten once the tournament moved to bracket play, scoring two easy wins on Sunday evening as the top seed in the bracket. The Lady Broncos opened Monday with a 4-2 win over Bowie State to remain unbeaten in bracket play, forcing any team to beat them twice to take the championship away.
"We knew we pretty much had it after we beat Bowie," said tournament Most Valuable player Kiara Reid (Jr., Rocky Mount, N.C.).
That came not long after the Lady Broncos received a conference telephone call from two-time CIAA Player of the Year Akira Turner, who anchored Fayetteville State on its "Fab Five" run of a year ago. While they may not have shown any emotion once they hit the lanes, the Lady Broncos said the call hit the mark.
"Akira just told us to stay calm, to stay focused," said Reid.
"And to go get it," added Wakerhauser.
That they did.
Virginia State tried to ride the wave of momentum that continued from the first moment the Trojans staved off elimination. Virginia State was down 3-2 to Northern Division champion Elizabeth City State in an elimination match to kick off Monday's play, only to storm back to win the match 4-3. They then slipped past Bowie State 4-3 in seven games after falling behind 3-2 there.
Riding those emotions, Virginia State got off to a hot start against the Lady Broncos in the first game of the championship series. But the Lady Broncos, with impressive showings from Daisy Weishman (Jr., Fayetteville, N.C.) and De'Andrea Bethea (So., Raleigh, N.C.), matched every mark and then some, and ripped off the best Baker game of the tournament in a 224-146 win. It was a devastating performance that set the tone for the rest of the math.
"That first game clinched the championship," said Fayetteville State head coach Bobby Henderson, who has won more games than any other coach in CIAA history. "You could see it in their faces when that 200 hit them. That slammed the door."
There were fewer celebrations after that - until the 10th frame of the fourth game.
With Virginia State in front and poised to push the title series to a fifth game, Reid picked up a 5-10-pin split to extender her 10th frame while the Trojans' Latoya Gee just missed the 6 pin, leaving her 10th frame open. Reid knocked down seven pins on her third throw of the frame, and it was just enough to lift Fayetteville State to victory, 146-145.
The Lady Broncos - and the large number of Fayetteville State fans in attendance -- were more than happy to begin their own wild celebration then.
"We don't ever want to get too emotionally high or too low," said Henderson. "If you react to a good throw the same way you react to a bad throw, and if you understand that your teammates will always be there to pick you up, you won't lose your confidence.
"You need tunnel vision. You have to stay focused on the pins. Keep your mind on the pins."
And their eyes on the biggest prize of all. Once again.
Reid was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammate Crystal Mujica (Fr., Fayetteville, N.C.) along with Gee, Ambrianna Bankston (Bowie State) and Candace Spinks (Winston-Salem State).