Nov. 17, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - The defending CIAA Champions are young, inexperienced and banged up.
And still Fayetteville State head bowling coach Bobby Henderson believes he has a team that can contend for a second straight conference title.
Last season's brilliant "Fab Five" never took a frame off on its way to marching to Henderson's second league championship in five years. But entering the fall semester action of the 2011-12 season - the season opens with a three-day Southern Division meet in Charlotte this weekend - the Fayetteville State Lady Broncos are down to one bowler from last season's squad. Two bowlers from a year ago, including CIAA Rookie of the Year De'Andrea Bethea (So., Raleigh, N.C.), are unavailable until second semester because of injury.
But even with a team top heavy with newcomers, Henderson isn't about to make excuses.
"We focus on two things at Fayetteville State," says Henderson, who has led the Lady Broncos to eight straight division titles and 10 division championships in the last 11 years. "Those are academics - the books are always No. 1 here - and carrying on our tradition. Even with all of this youth and inexperience, I still believe we have a team capable of winning. When you really look at it, we're not all that far off from last year's team."
It's hard to believe when you check out the roster. Two-time CIAA Player of the Year Akira Turner has graduated, and while the team returns 60 percent of the championship squad, it will take time for Bethea and second-year bowler Daisy Weishman (So., Seoul, Korea) to integrate themselves back into the lineup come January.
That leaves senior Kelly Wakerhauser
(Portage, Wis.), the team captain, to lead the club.
"She doesn't need to roll the highest average; that's not necessarily what I'm looking for out of her," says Henderson. "She's been there before, though, and I expect her to lead by example and keep this team together."
But where there's youth there is also plenty of talent.
After taking a year off, senior Kiara Reid (Rocky Mount, N.C.) returns and is dramatically improved from where she left off in 2009-10, says Henderson. And freshmen Crystal Mujica (Fayetteville, N.C.) and Megan Mayner (Fayetteville, N.C.) have the opportunity to shine not only in the early lineup for the Broncos, but throughout the CIAA.
"Crystal is ahead of where Akira Turner came in here as," Henderson says. "Akira was rolling a 180 average when she came to Fayetteville State while Crystal is already at 196. And Mayner is already adding to her average just in the time she's been working out here."
While walk-on Teondra Payne (Jr., Greensboro, N.C.) adds more depth for the Lady Broncos, Henderson understands this season will be a work in progress. He already expects stiff competition in the Southern Division out of St. Augustine's and Johnson C. Smith, and knows that his new players will need time to adjust to collegiate bowling.
"There's a big difference at the college level," he says. "You're talking about players who work out 1 ½-to-2 hours now going to down for 5-6 hours a day for three days straight. It's demanding.
"It will be a big melding process, but we'll have time to build, and when two of our top players come back in January, we'll be that much better."
But the Lady Broncos will likely need to battle lapses in consistency.
"We've rolled some great numbers in practice - going over 950," Henderson says. "But we've rolled some 700s, too. It's going to about bringing a consistent effort."
And there will be nerves, too. At least for a while.
"It's all about getting that first match under your belt," says Henderson. "I've already heard from the freshmen about how nervous they're going to be. But once you throw the first couple of balls, you don't feel that anymore. I can handle two frames of that, but after that, I don't want to hear about nerves. The people watching you are behind you. You don't even have to see them."
Despite what appear to be obstacles, the Lady Broncos won't be backing down any time soon.
"We're about winning," Henderson says. "Second place is no good for us. Now, if we play out a season and we finish in second or third, so be it. But that's never our goal. Never."