Kansas City, Mo. - The Nebraska bowling team completed its NCAA Championship run, downing Arkansas State, 4-1, Saturday night at the AMF Pro Bowl Lanes and in front of a national television audience.
The national title was the sixth NCAA title by the Huskers since 2004 and the eighth since bowling was elevated to varsity sport status at Nebraska in 1998.
The Huskers, who faced elimination after losing their opening match of regional play on Wednesday, responded with seven straight wins over four days to earn their first national title since 2015.
"We looked real bleak early, but this group is extremely resilient," Head Coach Paul Klempa said following Saturday's match. "A lot of grit. Determined. Once they got rolling, nobody could get in their way. That's just how it went. They're really special."
Saturday's championship match saw the Huskers drop the opening game, 217-224, before winning the next four matches in the best-of-seven format by scores of 235-194, 201-190, 179-162 and 198-170.
The starting lineup for the Huskers consisted of Michelle Guarro, Gwen Maeha, Kayla Verstraete, Cassidy Ray and Crystal Elliott in the baker format where each bowler rolls two frames per match in order.
In the opener, the Huskers got off to a quick start with six straight strikes to build a 21-point lead, but could not hold on after open seventh and eighth frames allowed the Red Wolves to come back and take a 224-217 victory.
Trailing 1-0, the Huskers opened the second game with two straight spares before taking control of the match. Verstraete, Ray and Elliott combined for three straight strikes for the Big Red, while Arkansas State had a pair of open frames, allowing Nebraska to build a commanding lead. Nebraska continued its momentum during the second half of the game with three strikes as part of five straight marks en route to posting a 235-194 victory to even the match.
In game three, the Huskers started slowly with open frames in the second and third before Ray's strike in the fourth frame got the Huskers going. In all, the Huskers rolled five straight strikes from the fourth to the eighth frames to take control. Arkansas State closed with five straight strikes, but Elliot's spare in the 10th frame was more than enough in the 201-190 victory, giving the Huskers a 2-1 lead.
In game four, Arkansas State opened with two straight strikes, while an open frame by Nebraska put the Huskers in an early deficit. The tables quickly turned as Verstraete, Ray and Elliott rolled three straight strikes, while Arkansas State had consecutive open frames in the third and fourth, as Nebraska led by 25 pins after five frames. NU closed the match with spares in the seventh and eight frames, while Elliott capped a 179-162 win with a strike and a spare in the 10th frame.
The finale was close early on, as Nebraska built an early 13-point lead after three frames, only to see Arkansas State come back with strikes in the fourth and fifth frames to take a nine-point lead after five frames. Guarro got a spare in the sixth frame before Maeha, Verstraete and Ray rolled three straight strikes. ASU had open frames in both the seventh and eighth, giving the Huskers the victory.
Nebraska Bowling Coach Paul Klempa
"I could not be more proud of this group. They just kept pushing and grinding until they reached their ultimate goal. The team executed both physically and emotionally exactly how we had planned and prepared. They deserve this win and will celebrate it for some time to come. As I said on the broadcast, after this very difficult year for everyone, our athletic department could really use a boost and have a reason to celebrate. We are so happy to be able to bring this back to them and celebrate this with everyone in Nebraska Athletics and Husker fans around the globe. GO BIG RED!!!!!"
"I feel really good, just on top of the world right now. This team has worked so hard to get to this moment, and we took it and ran with it. After Wednesday (losing in the first round), I wasn't sure what to expect, but we earned that win."
"This season has had its ups and downs, but honestly there is no better feeling in the world than bowling with these ladies and achieving the ultimate goal in collegiate bowling. I knew they were always behind me, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better to have my back. This season has been exciting, but I cannot wait to hit the lanes this next season with these girls all over again."
Assistant Coach Shannon Pluhowsky
"I'm extremely proud of the way the girls fought this week. We were down but never out, and they showed a ton of heart and resilience. I am proud to be able to coach such talented women.'
Nebraska Bowling Championship Notes
*-Nebraska bowling has won eight national titles since becoming a varsity sport in 1998 (1999-IBC, 2001-IBC, 2004-NCAA; 2005-NCAA, 2009-NCAA, 2013-NCAA; 2015-NCAA and 2021-NCAA).
*-Nebraska's NCAA bowling title tonight marked the 29th national title in Nebraska Athletics history and first since 2017.
*-Nebraska's eight bowling national titles matches the most national titles by a Husker program. Men's gymnastics also has eight, while the other titles have come from football (5), volleyball (5) and women's track and field (3)
*-Paul Klempa joins Bill Straub as national championship bowling coaches at Nebraska. This is Klempa's first NCAA title as a coach. The 2020 NCAA Championship was canceled because of COVID-19.
*-The 2021 NCAA Championship was the only tournament the Huskers won during the season. The Huskers competed in just five regular-season tournaments this year and did not have their first competition until late January.
*-Nebraska improves to 6-4 all-time in NCAA Championship matches since bowling became an NCAA sport in 2004.