Detroit Bound: Sam Houston bowling looks to bring home second national championship

Apr. 10—ARLINGTON — After falling in the second round of the contender's bracket of the Conference USA Tournament there was a level of uncertainty on if the program would advance to a regional.

But, for the second year in a row, Sam Houston tabbed an at-large bid into the regional tournament against fellow CUSA school Louisiana Tech in the first round. The Bearkat bowlers swept the weekend beating top-ranked North Carolina A&T in the second round to advance to the regional finals.

With Louisiana Tech taking down North Carolina A&T in the elimination game, the Bulldogs put the Bearkats on the ropes after an opening-game loss. From there, Sam Houston took the Baker round and the first four games of the best of seven to take the win.

"It was an exhilarating weekend for us. As soon as we got the pattern I felt really good about it. With the equipment we brought and being familiar with the international training and research center, I felt good about the weekend," Bearkat coach Brad Hagen said. "Most importantly, the ladies came in with the right headspace. That is what our focus will be continuing forward."

Sam Houston won the National Championship in 2014 after being the eighth seed in qualifying and was matched up with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, who was the first seed. After the 4-2 first-round win, Sam Houston caught a groove.

The Bearkats rolled to a 4-2 win over Whitewater Wisconsin and then took a 4-0 win over Maryland Eastern Shore to advance to the Championship game.

For the Bearkats, it's a bit of deja vu this time around. The Bearkats will compete in the National Championship Tournament for the first time since 2019 when they finished tied for seventh.

But this year brings a similar mindset as Sam Houston didn't find the event wins but was always around the top of the leaderboards and rankings. Currently, the Bearkat bowlers sit 10th in the RPI with a 75-45 record and the sixth-ranked strength of schedule.

"We had that discussion at practice. A lot of the nuances and things that are happening have been reflected on that year. We were the eighth seed and had to go through the number one qualifying team twice to make the show. We are once again the lower seed against the number one, who we've competed against well. Many of those nuance things happened and I am getting cold chills thinking about it. We are flying high right now."

With the National Championships taking place this weekend, there is one thing that is already confirmed: The Champion will be a Conference USA school.

The four teams making up the championship bracket include Jax State, Youngstown State, Vanderbilt and, of course, the Bearkats.

Overall, CUSA had six teams compete in the NCAA Regional Tournaments.

"Out of the six CUSA teams that made a regional, that was our goal. We wanted to keep it in Conference USA, which we all said could happen. That was a testament to the quality and caliber of the student-athletes and coaches CUSA has. I think it's a good thing. The one thing we wanted to do is build the brand and have CUSA be synonymous with Division I bowling," Hagen said. "We want people to go 'CUSA, that's Division I bowling' that is where we aspire to be."

Now that can be a good thing and a bad thing. All of these squads have seen each other bowl a handful of times before and this is just another meeting. In the CUSA Tournament in late March, the Bearkats faced Youngstown State twice. Sam Houston faced them to open tournament play, which the Penguins took the first two games. Youngstown State won the traditional game, 985-914 and the Five-Game Baker set 1030-1011.

In the first round of the NCAA Championships, the Kats will have to stack up against the No. 1 overall seed, and CUSA Champion, Jax State. But that might be a good thing.

Sam Houston has battled the Gamecocks three times this season in a traditional bowling match. The Kats are 2-1 against them.

The Bearkat bowlers have out-gained the Gamecocks by 65 pins in the three matches after losing the first match by 26 pins.

"It was a lot more conducive to what we are capable of and it was our focus this morning. Looking at some of the analytics and statistics based on results from last weekend. We are a lot closer going into this weekend. We are in a good place. To me, it's mental. If we take care of what is happening between the ears, it's easier to make the moves and pay attention to the right stuff and that is when the results come," Hagen said.

Sam Houston will travel up to Detroit, Michigan, for the NCAA Championships. The Championships will be held at the Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, Michigan. Match play will begin at 8 a.m. CT Friday, April 12, the Kats will then return to the lanes at 2 p.m. CT later that day.

The championship game will be held on at 8 p.m. CT Saturday, April 13, and will be streamed on ESPN+.