Racking up another National Championship

Right before match three, Wichita State’s men’s bowling team huddled together before winning their third straight match and the school’s 20th national championship at Northrock Lanes on Saturday.

“We realized if we win one more game, we’ll win it all,” junior AJ Chapman said. “Two more shots each and we’re home free. The huddle put us in that moment. Let’s go ahead and do it.”

The Intercollegiate Team Championships brought together the top 16 men’s and women’s bowling teams in the country to compete for the national championship. The teams contended in best-of-seven, double-elimination match play Thursday and Friday until there were two left standing from the men’s and women’s sides to compete Saturday.

The women were knocked out in their last match Friday. Even though the women lost, head coach Gordon Vadakin said he was pleased with the efforts from both teams.

“It’s satisfying to know what they did and the efforts and commitments they made after the year,” Vadakin said. “Men and women resulted in an outstanding result. It’s nice to get the results that you strive for as a program and as a team.”

WSU’s men’s team defeated Midland University in three straight games (169-129, 275-167, 210-166) in a best out of five match.

In the first game, WSU ground out a tough 169-129 win — something graduate student Matt McNiel is used to.

“We just gotta throw one good frame at a time,” McNiel said. “That’s been our rally cry all year.”

The Shockers started game two with seven straight strikes when McNiel’s turn came. He left three pins standing, turned around, laughed and gave high-fives to his teammates.

He made the choke sign as if he messed up the streak, laughing it off and staying loose. He then came back to finish off the last three pins for the spare.

“That’s the amazing thing about our team is the fact that nobody expects anybody to be perfect on our team,” McNiel said. “We just expect everyone to give a perfect effort. It’s OK to miss. I feel so comfortable and trust my teammates so much.”

Chapman was up next. He rolled the ball, had the right entry into the pocket and was lined up correctly. All but the four-pin were knocked down as one of the pins rolled 180-degrees.

“Please, please pick up speed,” Chapman said to the rolling pin. “Go over there, and knock it down.”

It tapped the four-pin, knocking it over. Chapman got a strike — a strike that stuck out to McNiel as the game changer.

“That strike right there relaxed everybody,” McNiel said. “That strike proved everything was going our way. I look at that as a great break, and it made everyone really comfortable, because getting a break like that meant it was our time.”

The Shockers went on to win game two 275-167.

In game three, WSU started off with two strikes, a spare and two splits that left pins standing. With a lead on Midland, Assistant Coach Nathan Bohr brought the team in for one last huddle.

McNiel said he remembers Bohr saying the team was making great shots, to keep making great shots, be present, keep your mind still and be in the moment.

“We came out of that huddle, and everyone was absolutely determined and ready to go,” McNiel said.

They hit their next four strikes to close out the game.

“Those were the best shots those players have made in their career — to do it and end it right there,” McNiel said. “That’s what we wanted to do, and that’s what we did.”

Running, jumping and screaming followed McNiel’s last strike in the ninth frame, a rare moment for someone who typically stays focused and doesn’t get too far ahead of himself.

“That was to lock up the national championship, to lock up the match and seal the deal,” McNiel said. “It was unbridled joy. I got to show it to my teammates, to the crowd, to everybody watching there. I totally let go. That’s what I felt in the moment, and that’s what the moment produced.”

After Midland finished up, ending the third game in a 210-166 WSU win, the Shockers were national champions once again. CBS Sports Network will air a replay of the men’s final at 6 p.m. May 25.

A long pause came from Vadakin on Sunday, the day after the team’s championship.

“You know, it’s joyous,” Vadakin said. “It was the purest form of … beyond happy. It’s just joy, tears of joy.”