It has been one of the best-kept secrets in the NCCU athletics department, probably because the team rarely plays at home.
But if things keep getting better and better, soon the exploits of the Eagle bowling team are going to be well known in the NCCU community.
The Eagle rollers went 34-30-1 this season, the best campaign since the university left the CIAA bound for membership in the MEAC. That came after a combined 53-172 over the previous three seasons, including a 13-59 mark in 2010.
“We have a bowling team?” sophomore Laverne Jones said is the most common response she hears when people find out she’s on an athletic scholarship.
“Then they say ‘You can’t beat me,’” added Toria Silver, who will graduate with a degree in child development this weekend, but still has eligibility left and will continue studies at NCCU. “We’ve been challenged twice by the football team and the baseball team, but they never showed up. Most people think of bowling as a hobby, and not a sport.”
It certainly wasn’t just a hobby for this season’s Eagles, who had a lot to brag about for the first time since NCCU’s inaugural varsity team won the inaugural CIAA championship in 2001.
“I think we had a really good season,” NCCU coach Karen Sanford said. “The young ladies worked hard. We had our first 1000 set (a 1036 against Elizabeth City State on Feb. 11) and Laverne broke the school record with a high game of 256 (to lead that victory over the Vikings.)”
The squad had only six players this season, but Sanford said she would never want more than seven anyway. Five compete in each match, and substitutes are allowed during a game if someone gets an injury or is just having a bad day.
The four others on this season’s team were seniors LaTia Blacknell from Durham Riverside and Shelisha Ejimakor from Raleigh, sophomore Khrystal Richardson from Matteson, Ill., and freshman Kristyne Garrett from Raleigh Enloe.
But they didn’t compete on high school teams before coming to NCCU.
“Laverne found me,” Sanford explained. “Her cousin sent me an e-mail and said she was looking for a place to go. I e-mailed her and called her and signed her, and here she is. I used to work with Toria’s mother (Victoria), so I knew her before she was born.”
Jones was also a guard on the basketball team and played on the back row for the volleyball team at Goldsboro’s Eastern Wayne High.
Jones, the “anchor,” who bowls the fifth and tenth frames when the Eagles play a Baker game, averaged a 177.8 this season. She started at the age of eight on the recommendation of her mother Nenita, and remembers her best recreational game at 264.
“Sometimes it takes a toll, but I started getting used to it after a while,” Jones said of the weekend matches, in which a player may roll as many as 40 games. “I know Coach has confidence in me. I’m hoping we can win some championships next year.”
Silver, who had played volleyball and basketball at Shepard Middle School, attended the Josephine Dobbs Clement Early College High on campus.
Silver, who has been rolling since she was seven when her mother got her into it, is the leadoff or “sparkplug” in Baker games and averages 167.4. She had a 273 in an exhibition game against Bethune-Cookman last season.
“I was happy we got to be a better Baker team this year,” Silver said. “And when we shot that 1036 it was awesome. I want to finish No. 1 in the MEAC South next year.”
MEAC championships may be a bit of a different goal in bowling than in other sports, too.
Maryland-Eastern Shore won NCAA National Collegiate titles – the designation in which there are not Division I and II and III but just one champion – this season and in 2008.
And the Hawks have had to beat schools from major conferences like the Big XII (Nebraska) and the SEC (Vanderbilt) to do it.
“Everybody wants to go to the nationals, but our goal for next year will be to make the MEAC Championships,” said Sanford, who has a recreational team named the ‘Eagle Rollers’ that competes for USBC national championships. “The top four in the South will make it. I think we’ll be looking pretty good. We’ll lose two seniors, but we have two good recruits coming in. We want to win some championships and put a banner on the wall.”