Viens, NJCU shock FDU before falling to Nebraska in Final Four

Viens, NJCU shock FDU before
falling to Nebraska in Final Four

HOUSTON — It would have been impossible to choreograph the script any better than this.

The NCAA Women’s Bowling National Semifinal came down to the final frame in the final game of the best-four-out-of-seven series, with David nearly shocking the world before being eliminated by the Goliath of collegiate bowling, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, four games to three.

With the loss, New Jersey City University (NJCU) finished third nationally in the inaugural women’s bowling national championship. It is the best NCAA finish of any team in University history, surpassing the two fourth-place results by the men’s basketball team in 1986 and 1992.

NJCU, the No. 6 seed, advanced to the national semifinal by stunning intra-state rival Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), the fourth seed, four games to one, in the Final Four. All games were played under the baker format in which each of the five bowlers on a team will play two frames of a traditional 10-frame game. The event was at the Emerald Bowl in Houston.

In the national semifinal, NJCU was making its first national television appearance in any sport, and it was obvious from the start that the Gothic Knights were nervous under the bright ESPN lights. No. 2-seeded Nebraska, student population 25,000, won the first baker game, 188-146, then decisively won game two, 245-140. By comparison, NJCU has a student enrollment of 4,458. The Knights entered the semifinal match with a 3-6 record against the Cornhuskers this season.

With the series outcome looking bleak, NJCU senior anchor Eryn Cully, of Medford, N.Y., was the emotional leader of the team, and carried the team on her back, throwing three strikes in the 10th frame of game three, to lift NJCU to a 222-211 win.

"This is the best thing I’ve ever been a part of," said Cully, summarizing her emotions of the history-making tournament.

The fourth game was just as tight, and behind the bowling of junior Christine Zsilavetz, of Woodbridge; senior Lisa Melchior, of Edison; and sophomore Kathleen Weissman, of Saddle Brook (Immaculate Heart Academy), the Gothic Knights evened the series at 2-2 with a 183-171 win.

Nebraska easily won the fifth game, 237-134, to gain a 3-2 series edge. But in the sixth game, the magic for NJCU continued. Trailing in the ninth frame, junior Jennifer Viens, of Old Bridge, who became the first bowler to ever roll a perfect 300 game in championship play last Thursday, got the entire crowd behind her team and gave NJCU the lead, when she converted an amazing 6-7-10 split for a spare, and Cully finished off the Huskers with a 200-184 win.

It came down to game seven, and it looked like NJCU was going to slay the giant. But, leading in the seventh frame, NJCU missed a costly spare, and Nebraska took advantage, converting several strikes to move in front by several pins. Nebraska led 191-169, but left NJCU some life when junior Shannon Pluhowsky, of Phoenix, Ariz., one of the top women’s bowlers in the world, scored a strike on her first ball of the 10th frame but didn’t finish with a spare. NJCU had a shot to win if Cully notched a strike on her first ball. However, she cleared six with her first ball, finished with a nine on the frame, and Nebraska survived the amazing series, four games to three, with a 191-178 victory in the last game. It was the only close game of the afternoon NJCU did not win.

"I was a little nervous," Cully emphasized in the post-game press conference. "When it first came out of my hand, I knew it was left, and I was just hoping to get lucky. I guess you can’t strike every time."

"We beat them several times before," said Viens. "We just wanted to get here [the national semifinal]. Our first obsta­cle was to beat FDU, who is a great team. But it wasn’t their turn. It was our turn. It was nice to bowl against Nebraska. They’re nice girls and they’re an excellent team. We gave them a run for their money. This is the biggest thing our school has ever done."

"That’s an individual memory," said Viens, when asked if the 300 game would be her brightest memory of the weekend. "My memory of the team is stronger. I wouldn’t even dream anything else. Mak­ing this [semifinal] with this team is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in bowling."

Notes… With her 300 earlier in the tournament, Viens became the first bowler in NCAA history to roll a perfect 300 game in championship play, and NJCU rolled the second-highest team score in school history as the junior guided the Gothic Knights to a 1,177-781 win over Winston-Salem State University in the first of seven games last Thursday at the NCAA Women’s Bowling National Championship at the Emerald Bowl.

Her historic accomplishment is also the first 300 game in the four-year history of the NJCU women’s bowling program. The previous record for a high game was a 298 set by current senior Lisa Melchoir, of Edison, as a sophomore on Feb. 24, 2002.

To achieve a perfect game, a bowler must record 12 consecutive strikes. Viens opened with nine straight strikes then calmly notched three in the final frame before receiving a standing ovation from the audience while embracing her teammates in tears.