A Striking Year for the Bearcat Bowling Team

by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney ’10

Photo of Bowling Team Holding TrophyThere’s nothing better than finishing your college bowling career as a member of the best team in the nation. For McKendree seniors Riley Smith ’16, Shawn Bibee ’16, and Ryan Patterson ’16, that victory was even sweeter because it was something they promised themselves they would achieve ever since their freshman year.

In 2013, the McKendree men’s bowling team made it to the final round of the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Intercollegiate Team Championships and went home with second place. While it was still an impressive all-time high for the Bearcat bowlers, all three seniors were determined to make it back one day and finish what they came so close to achieving.

“I took our loss in 2013 very hard and didn’t watch the telecast until the night we won the championship this year,” said riley. “I said to myself that I didn’t want to watch the show until we brought the Helmer Cup to McKendree, and we did! Returning to the National Championship was full circle for us seniors.”

Riley, Shawn and Ryan were joined by sophomores Billy Goodman, Ryan Mooney, James Stanley and Greg Young, and freshman Alex Martin on the championship squad for McKendree. Their path to the championship was not easy. They won their first two games in double-elimination bracket play before being defeated by Webber International University, sending them to the elimination bracket. They went on to beat Midland University and Webber International twice in bracket play to advance to the title game against William Paterson University.

This year, they not only brought home the first national championship win for men’s bowling, but they also left with two players, Riley and Greg, named to the All-Tournament Team.

“Bowling is unique because it’s an individual sport that’s played as a team, and that can sometimes be difficult for everyone to understand,” said Head Men’s Bowling Coach Dennis Knepper. “The team stuck together well this season. There were no individualists; they all played well together and we brought our game to the next level because of that.”

In spite of the accomplishments, the team also had its share of adversity to overcome. One player had an allergic reaction to shellfish while they were out of town for a tournament, and Riley, the team captain, had to have an emergency appendectomy while in Indianapolis for another game. Not sure if he would be able to bowl the rest of the season due to the surgery, Riley pitched in more than ever helping to support and coach his teammates as he recovered. “The surgery actually enhanced my game because I was able to help coach at practice and had hours of meetings with Dennis to talk about what we needed to do to win. If anything, the surgery helped the team unite as one, and we learned how to bowl with purpose and a sense of urgency. The whole team was bowling for each other.”

This sense of unity and camaraderie was one of the keys that Coach Knepper believes gave the Bearcat bowlers their first national victory.

He explained that with five people on a team and 10 frames in a game, each bowler only gets two frames to play. “You could have the best person in the nation playing, but if you’re not playing as a team, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “This win puts us on the map and shows we’re not just a team who came in second once. We returned and now we’ve won it.”