DURHAM - It became official Sunday morning.
In the middle of their second match of the day-facing No. 14 Norfolk State-- assistant coach Ray Best turned to the five student-athletes of North Carolina A&T bowling team and said, "Congratulations, you're all going to the MEAC."
For senior Amber Brown and head coach James Williams, the moment that the Aggies officially qualified for their first ever MEAC Championship Tournament was a gratifying one.
Brown helped the team qualify for the 2013 championships with a 722-716 victory over N.C. Central to start the quad bakers action in the final day of the MEAC Southern Division #3 Tournament at the AMF Durham Lanes.
"It feels good," said Brown with a mixture of excitement and relief. "I think that after we got our two games (against N.C. Central), we were kind of just more relaxed. Before then I was kind of stressed, like oh my gosh, we had to get one more. We won the first one. After that, I was like, 'We made it!'"
It's been a long time coming for the Aggies, who have been working to rebuild the program into the glory it enjoyed in the first part of the millennium, when the Aggies won four of the first five MEAC Championship Tournaments. Williams and Brown began that journey together in 2009-10, and are seeing the fruit of their labors this season.
"She's never experienced the tournament whatsoever, so it's really big," said Williams. "Even today, I realized that she's been with me four years, and she's never been in the anchor spot. So for the last two matches I let her bowl anchor, regardless of what the outcome was going to be, it's just like she deserved that."
The A&T bowling team (39-35) finished the tournament with a 2-6 record to put them at 12-12 in conference play for the season.
"I'm just proud of the season, going .500 in the conference," Williams said. "After having a losing record for the last three years, it is a positive for me. So I'll take it. Just to be where we are after where we've been for so long is gratifying."
The conference championships are scheduled for March 22-24 in Norfolk, Va. The Aggies will be taking on some stiff competition as four MEAC teams are ranked in the Top 20 in the National Tenpin Coaches Association poll. Defending NCAA Champion UMES is ranked second, while defending MEAC champion Norfolk State is 14th, Bethune-Cookman is 19th and Delaware State is 20th.
"In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. I can't wait for us to show up and show 'em," Brown said. "I think that they're a great competition and they stretch us to places that we haven't been. Seeing them will definitely give us that edge so that we can compete on that level."
But Brown and Williams know that the team still has some work to do if they want to add to the hardware in the A&T bowling trophy case, as the Aggies have not performed as well as they have wanted to in the last couple of tournaments.
"Hopefully we'll do better than we did today," Brown said. "I think that this is a transition year and that we're definitely growing. We have some kinks that they're going to have to work out when I leave, but I feel like we've seen things, and that now we can do things better for next year."
The Aggies will compete in the Music City Classic from March 13-15 to close out the regular season.
"It'll be a good place to continue to practice on what we need to do before Championships," said Williams.