SMYRNA, Tenn.-The North Carolina A&T bowling team wrapped up the regular season with a 7-8 record and 24th place finish in the Columbia 300 Music City Classic tournament hosted by Vanderbilt at the Smyrna Bowling Center this weekend.
The Aggies (46-43, 12-12 MEAC) used the three-day Music City Classic as a final tune-up to prepare for the MEAC Championship Tournament, which is scheduled for March 22-24 in Norfolk, Va. It is the team's first MEAC Tournament appearance since 2008-09. They will be competing for their fifth MEAC Championship title in program history, and their first since 2004.
"It was great preparation for championships. The intensity they are going to have to deal with is something you can't simulate," said A&T head coach James Williams of the tournament, which featured 16 of the Top 20 teams ranked by the National Tenpin Coaches Association.
A&T wrapped up the Classic with a 4-2 win over No. 19 Bethune Cookman and a 4-1 win over Texas Southern in best-of-seven bakers competition. The Aggies lost 4-3 against Louisiana Tech. The Aggies won the first three games against Louisiana tech, but dropped the final four to end up in 24th place.
"I was extremely pleased about today. They looked like they are coming out if the slump that has plagued us the later part of the season," Williams said. "I also watched this young team take another step in their growth process today. Very positive things today."
He added that the intensity of Sunday's Louisiana Tech match in particular will help prepare the Aggies for the competition they will face in the MEAC Tournament-including defending NCAA Champions No. 2 UMES, defending MEAC champions No. 14 Norfolk State, No. 19 Bethune-Cookman and No. 20 Delaware State.
"I was extremely proud of them today. They battled, they showed up and bowled to the best of their abilities. It was an awesome match to see. If they bring that same intensity next weekend we'll definitely surprise some people," Williams said.
The Aggies also picked up some other key victories on Saturday and Friday, and were able to test themselves against top-ranked opponents.
The Aggies opened action on Saturday day with a 920-904 win over No. 15 Valparaiso. Junior Cherise Poole, who averaged a 179.3 on the day, bowled a 210 to help lead the Aggies to the victory.
The Aggies then lost their next four head-to-head matches, facing some of the top teams in the nation. A&T fell to No. 6 Wisconsin Whitewater by 981-833, and lost to No. 4 Arkansas State 959-812. No. 8 Sam Houston State defeated A&T by 998-912 and Louisiana Tech beat A&T by 886-830. No. 3 Nebraska bested A&T by 987-739 to end the day. Freshman Emily Strombeck led the team with a 179.5 average on the day. Her best game was a 205 against Louisiana Tech.
"Yesterday was a test of our mental toughness," Williams said. "To have to battle nationally ranked team after ranked team, it was mentally draining. It was good to see the ladies respond in the way they did."
On Friday, The Aggies began with a 579-554 win over Southern University. The Aggies then bested the University of Alabama-Birmingham by 679-661. It was their second win over UAB on the season. A&T bowled a 209 in the first game of the match against UAB, which was their best individual game on the day.
In the third bakers match, A&T won 686-653 against Alabama State. The team's winning streak continued as the Aggies beat Tulane 719-653, redeeming an earlier loss this season to the Green Wave at the Tulane Collegiate Bowling Invitational.
The Aggies then lost 852-744 to No. 13 Stephen F. Austin, as the Lumberjacks posted three 200-plus games in the match. A&T lost a competitive match at 751-701 to Alabama A&M to close out the day. The Aggies were behind by nine points heading into the fourth and final game, but the Bulldogs outbowled the Aggies 210-169 to win the match.
The Aggies will spend this week preparing to win the 2013 MEAC Championship Tournament.