Bowling team a national contender

Vanderbilt's young bowling program has evolved into a championship contender and recently signed the nation's top high school bowler. VandyMania spoke with bowling head coach John Williamson about these remarkable developments and more.

VandyMania: Coach Williamson, thanks for joining us. Talk to us a little bit about this tournament you guys participated in last weekend.
John Williamson: Alabama A&M hosted a tournament that had 13 of the top 15 teams in the country. We are still trying to make our case for the national tournament. We went down there with an agenda and an emphasis on doing the best we can. Things sort of worked out for us. It was the first weekend of the year that we bowled a complete tournament.

VandyMania: Wow, 13 of the top 15 teams in the country?
John Williamson: Yeah, of the Coaches Association top 15, there were 13 there so it was the best of the best in collegiate bowling.

VandyMania: That's incredible! and you guys ended up second in that?
John Williamson: Yes, we were leading almost the entire tournament and the University of Nebraska, they were actually lights out on Sunday, we averaged 210 for the tournament, and they just caught us. They averaged 213 for the tournament but Sunday they were just lights out. We didn't lose it, they more or less won it.

Michelle Peloquin
Michelle Peloquin
(VU Photo)

VandyMania: Talk about some of your top players.
John Williamson: Our starting lineup is 5 freshmen which, for the first part of the year, was some growing pains. A lot of them had never participated in team bowling; they had only done individual tournaments and things like that so there was a learning curve with the transition into coming to college. Your success doesn't necessarily directly depend on your own success, the team's success. We had a girl who transferred who had to sit out the first semester. So we weren't full strength until January of the spring term. We've only had a couple of tournaments where we've had all 5 freshmen bowl. Now we are starting to come together. . . . Our top bowler is Michelle Peloquin. She currently averages about 210 which is second in the NCAA, which is pretty incredible for a freshman. She's been in the top 10 in about every tournament. She's been runner up in a couple of tournaments. She hasn't individually won one but she's been on multiple All-Tournament teams and things like that.

VandyMania: Tell me a little bit about the scholarship situation. I know you guys have 5 freshmen on scholarship. How many scholarships do you guys get?
John Williamson: We are a little bit like baseball in that we don't give anyone full rides. We don't have the scholarships. The NCAA limitation of 5 scholarships certainly eliminates that. We probably have half the NCAA maximum in scholarships. We divvy it out, we work with financial aid, we try to get the best package. We try to get as much money as we can to as many kids as we can.

VandyMania: So are you guys going to try to bring in 5 more this year?
John Williamson: Currently we are bringing in two. We've signed a girl from Illinois who is rated the number 1 prospect in the country. We plan on signing a second player but she might walk on. There are a lot of kids out there that can bowl. There are a lot of major universities out there talking about adding bowling. I think we are on the front end of something that will be pretty big here shortly.

VandyMania: I think it's smart, it gives Vanderbilt a good chance to win a National Championship. It's looking like you guys are turning out to be one of the top programs in the country.
John Williamson: This is the NCAA's third year with bowling. There are some programs out there that are established. It's a thing that was can come in and we can be successful and we can make a name for ourselves and we can become the power school very quickly. You can see it in recruiting. When I send information to people we immediately become one of the top choices. It helps that way because you can get the best of the best athletes and students. We can do both things that Vanderbilt wants to do, have great athletics and great academics. We don't have to sacrifice either one.

VandyMania: How about the NCAA tournament; how does that work and what is Vanderbilt's outlook for that?
John Williamson: The NCAA tournament takes 8 teams. It's a three-day event and the 8 teams are chosen at large. Optimistically I think we have done enough to prove our case. With it being an at large decision I guess I won't believe or think that we are there until I get that phone call saying that we are in. I think that it would be a great step for our program, especially this early, to make the National Championships.

VandyMania: What is Vanderbilt ranked right now?
John Williamson: In our Coaches Association, which is the only poll that we have, we are ranked seventh. The new one is coming out tomorrow, Wednesday, I think that we might have impressed some people, we might have moved up a little bit. I guess the smart money would be that we have the ability to go to Houston. When you are dealing with a committee and things like that, people are left out every year in basketball and other stuff. We've got two more regular season tournaments and we are going to hopefully make their decision a little easier.

VandyMania: I understand you guys have a big tournament you are going to host soon?
John Williamson: Yeah, we are hosting the Columbia 300 Music City Classic next weekend, the 18th and 19th. We've got 9 teams coming including defending National Champion Nebraska, defending runner up Central Missouri State, Arkansas State, Wisconsin-White Water and Alabama A&M, some very good teams.

VandyMania: Wow, where is that going to be taking place?
John Williamson: Pla Mor lanes on Thompson Lane [ Map it ].

VandyMania: Can fans come out and watch that?
John Williamson: The fans can come out and watch. It's free of charge. We'll go from 9-2 on Saturday and Sunday.

VandyMania: [laughs] Do bowlers like folks screaming and yelling for them?
John Williamson: Yeah, the bowling tournaments are a little different than maybe any event I've ever been a part of. Some teams do chants and cheers. It's sort of like a fast pitch softball environment. There is screaming and hollering. It's definitely a spectator sport. When the games are close it gets kind of nerve racking and the adrenaline is pumping and people get into it. It's a good time and definitely something to check out.

VandyMania: Is Vanderbilt planning on adding a bowling facility?
John Williamson: There has been some talk adding some lanes on campus, something that we would get the benefit for. There's some talk from the students about building some kind of student rec center, something that the students could use at night for a student hang out. There's been talk but nothing definitive.

VandyMania: I think that would go right along with Vanderbilt's approach to student athletics, making their facilities available to the regular students.
John Williamson: Yeah, and it would create an activity for on campus. A lot of students want to be able to do activities on campus without going off campus. I think it would have a place. As with everything there is issues with how much would it cost and where would you put it?

VandyMania: Yeah, Vandy is pretty cramped up in there.

VandyMania: How long does your team normally practice for?
John Williamson: We go four days a week at the bowling center, we lift one day a week and we do yoga for two days a week. So we go 15 hours a week for bowling related stuff.

VandyMania: Coach, sounds like you have an exciting program. Thanks for joining us.
John Williamson: I hope that we can do our part to change the image of bowling. It isn't necessarily what people do on league nights; it isn't beer and pizza and that kind of stuff. It's competitive game and these girls work hard and take it serious.

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