Hockey players aren’t the only former Brainerd Warriors playing in NCAA championship games.
Brainerd High School graduate Kim Carper was a reserve for the Vanderbilt University women’s bowling team, which lost to Maryland Eastern Shore 4 games to 2 in the title match of the NCAA Championships April 14-16 at Taylor, Mich.
In the finals, M-ES won the first game 215-192 and the Commodores won the next two 193-164 and 248-201. M-ES won the next three 234-204, 235-166 and 192-181 to win its second title in four years.
Fairleigh Dickinson was the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Nebraska was No. 2, M-ES No. 3 and Vanderbilt No. 4.
In the first round April 15, Vanderbilt beat No. 5 Central Missouri 4-1. Fairleigh Dickinson then beat Vanderbilt in the second round via tiebreaker. Vanderbilt regrouped in the third round to defeat Arkansas State 4-2.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Vanderbilt twice beat Nebraska 4-1 to reach the finals.
A team’s lineup consists of five bowlers but substitutions may be made during matches. Carper was the Commodores’ sixth bowler in the nationals.
She made a key contribution in the second match against Nebraska when teammate Sarah O’Brien was bothered by hip problems.
“(O’Brien) started faltering, and I got put in the last game, which was crucial for us to win so we could advance to the championships,” Carper said. “We were going strike for strike the first four frames. I got brought in during the eighth frame. We had three strikes in a row, and I threw another strike, then we struck out to beat Nebraska (254-245).”
M-ES beat Fairleigh Dickinson 4-1, 4-2 to reach the finals against Vanderbilt.
“We were up (in Game 6) going into the 10th frame of the finals,” said Carper, who received an opportunity to bowl one shot in the finals. “Our anchor bowler, Samantha Hesley, threw an amazing shot that everyone thought she had struck. If she had struck we would win and tie (the match) 3-3, but her shot was a little bit high, and she left a 4-9 split. That’s how (M-ES) won.”
The finals were televised April 17 on a tape-delayed basis by ESPN. Carper said TV can be a distraction when bowling and there were commercial breaks after every five frames.
“They take about 4-5 lanes to put bleachers on, and do a show,” she said. “There were like six sets of bleachers, they put them all around the lanes, so you see people sitting on the sides all the way down the lanes when normally you don’t see that. There were really bright lights shining, $40,000 cameras all around.”
The runner-up finish was Vanderbilt’s second-best — it won the 2007 national championship.
“We had to battle a lot of adversity,” Carper said. “The first half of our fall season was rough. If we would have taken the fall season, and made it our spring season, we wouldn’t have made the national championship.
“Basically, we changed our team atmosphere from one season to the next in a month’s time. It’s very difficult to do but we were able to do that and make the national championships as kind of an underdog team. To do what we did in the national championships makes second place a little less of a disappointment.”
In 16 games, Carper averaged 184 with a high of 204.
“She was the sixth or sometimes seventh person in a 5-woman rotation and her ability to come in with little warm-up and produce is significant,” Rod Williamson, director of athletic communications at Vanderbilt, wrote in an email.
Carper, who averaged 182 as a freshman, hopes to become a regular in the Commodores’ lineup next season after making changes to her game.
“When you change your game it’s hard to break that muscle memory,” she said. “I changed some drastic areas of my game. Typically, I was a fast bowler. I’ve slowed my speed down, and (her game) has started to come together. If I work on things over the summer it could mean big things.
“(Vanderbilt) has been everything I could have imagined, and more. I’m impressed with the school and the bowling program. It’s the total package. I definitely hit a home run with this school.”
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.