The only sport at Vanderbilt to win a national championship often is the most forgotten one outside of the athletic department.
But the women’s bowling team continues to be hard to ignore.
For the eighth straight year, the Commodores will compete in the NCAA Championship. They received a No. 5 seed when the eight-team field was announced Wednesday. The tournament will be held April 10-13 in Canton, Mich.
Vanderbilt reached the semifinals last year and finished second in 2011. In 2007, they captured the school’s only national championship.
“Winning sort of breeds credibility,” coach John Williamson said. “We’ve been able to be successful and we’ve won lots of regular-season events and we’ve finished high at the NCAA Championships. I think with most things, the more you win, the more viable of a sport you are.”
Those who frequent the McGugin Center, the school’s athletic complex, have taken notice.
Several athletes from various teams attended Vanderbilt’s lone home tournament in Smyrna a couple weeks ago. The bowling team and men’s basketball team share an advisor and have formed friendships. Vanderbilt assistant women’s basketball coach Vicky Picott stopped by on Wednesday to congratulate the team.
Senior Kim Carper says it is a two-way street.
The bowling team has also been more visible on campus by attending other sporting events and staying involved in on-campus organizations. Carper, senior Lauren Rhein and sophomore Liz Saffold serve on the student athletic advisory committee.
“We try to stay involved in community service events throughout athletics,” Carper said. “Throughout that we’ve bonded with the other teams and have been really supportive of each other.”
While the Commodores currently practice in Smyrna, they’ll be able to stay closer to home when the multipurpose indoor facility is completed by the end of the year. In addition to a football field, the building will feature four bowling lanes. When the team isn’t practicing, the lanes will be open to students.
“I think people will recognize us more,” Carper said. “They’ll be able to see our stuff and say, ‘Oh, OK. We actually have a bowling team. They’re good.’ They’ll be able to come and watch and see practice. I think that will heighten our presence a lot.”
The bar already has been raised in the nine-history of the program.
When Williamson, a former director of operations for the baseball team, was chosen to lead the program in 2004, reaching the national tournament was a lofty goal. Now, he faces the challenge of making it an annual trip.
“When we first started doing this, this was like a nice bonus,” Williamson said. “Now it is sort of ingrained that this just sort of happens. It is ingrained in our athletic department. It is ingrained in our students. My job is to do my best to make sure our players don’t think it is ingrained. But that is a battle we fight with parents, friends — whoever.
“It is a difficult thing and I don’t know if we’ve really conquered it but we don’t take anything for granted.”