There were multiple firsts accomplished by the McKendree women’s bowling team Saturday in the NCAA championship match in Baton Rouge.
It was the first NCAA championship for the University in any sport after moving from the NAIA level to NCAA.
It was also the first time there was a sweep in the championship match in the 14-year history of the event as the Bearcats rolled past powerhouse Nebraska 4-0 to claim the title in dominant fashion after going through bracket play unbeaten.
It made for an impressive feat for the first two bowlers in the lineup, Hoffman Estates’ Sarah Wille and Joliet West’s Taylor Bailey.
“It feels great being able to make history,” Wille said. “It was great to bring home the first NCAA title for the school and to get the first sweep. No one else will ever be able to say they were the first.”
“It makes it that much more special to make history,” Bailey said. “This was one of my biggest goals coming here. Shannon and Brian (O’Keefe) wanted it and we wanted to do it for them. We also wanted to match the guys because they won last year.”
It was the first time both bowled on television, and making it more nerve-wracking was that ESPNU was broadcasting it live.
“I was really excited and nervous,” Bailey said. “I didn’t let it get to me. We all stayed in the moment and it helped us stay in it and stay together.”
“It was nerve-wracking,” Wille said. “I didn’t know what to expect since I was bowling leadoff and was always the first one to throw every game. We stayed connected and were behind each other watching every shot. Every one of us feels like we are bowling when we are watching the others.”
Beating a NCAA powerhouse like Nebraska, which also finished second last year and had a pair of Illinois bowlers in Julia Bond (Waubonsie Valley) and Bri Zabierek (Lockport) made it a little sweeter as well.
“It was nice because they have won a lot,” Wille said. “But we have beaten them a lot this year, so we know we could do it. It was cool to play Nebraska because they have some girls from the area as well. It is great to see all of the success the Illinois girls have had and to keep in touch and see them in college. There is a lot of talent in the area.”
It was the second straight year Bailey won a championship after winning the IHSA state title last year with Joliet West.
“I haven’t really compared the two,” she said. “With the high school team, we didn’t really expect to win. Here I thought we could win.The experience was a lot different from high school state.”
The freshman was also named to the NCAA All-Tournament team, along with freshman teammate Breanna Clemmer, who was the MVP.
“I was like shocked,” Bailey said. “It was a good kind of shocked though and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
McKendree will now look to double up as it stays in Baton Rouge to compete in the USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships this weekend.
If it or the University of St. Francis can win, all three women’s titles will come from the state of Illinois. Both teams would also win their second title of the year.
“Knowing what we have accomplished, we will be a little more relaxed,” Bailey said. “But we want to compete for another championship.”
“We were already out practicing today,” Wille said. “I think we have to focus more coming off the high and keep working mentally. I think we can go back and do it.”
Vanderbilt finished the tournament as a national semifinalist, falling to Nebraska. Seniors Giselle Poss (Oswego East) and Nicole Powell (Sandburg) and sophomore Jordan Newham (Metea Valley) were Illinois alums on the team.