Now that Maryland Eastern Shore owns two NCAA national titles in the last four years, and with Delaware State, Norfolk State and Florida A&M becoming increasingly better, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has become the premiere bowling conference in the nation.
North Carolina A&T finds itself in the middle of the fray as it tries to resurrect the ownership it once had over the MEAC. The Aggies won six of the MEAC's first seven sponsored championships. But since 2004, a number of MEAC teams have not only emerged as conference powerhouses, but national powers as well.
It leaves the Aggies in a position of having to retool to keep up with the changing times in the MEAC.
"Rebuilding is such an enabling word," said N.C. A&T head coach James Williams. "It gives a team a built in excuse for not being successful. I like to think of this year as a cultivating year. Last year we went through a rebuilding phase. This year, a good portion of the foundation was laid. Now it's time to take all that hard work and really improve, train, and refine the progress we made last year."
The Aggies open the season with an Oct. 21-23 tournament in Chesapeake, Va., called the Hampton Roads Collegiate Bowling Invitational. The Aggies are coming off of a 16-33 season, where they went 7-17 in the MEAC.
The Aggies will try to improve on their standing in the MEAC despite not having four-year standout Sarah Taylor. Taylor put together a 182.9 average. For her career, she had a 178 average and she bowled a score of 200 eight times in her career.
"No one can replace Sarah," said Williams, who also has vast experience in information technology. "She was a vital part of the building block we put in place last year. I like to think of her as a part of the design team. She helped create a blueprint for this team. Now it's everyone else's turn to not only to continue with the design where needed, but get their hands dirty and build."
The foundation of the team starts with senior April Terry. Terry had a bowling average of 175.1 last season, second on the team behind Taylor. Terry has gradually improved over the first three years of her career, but N.C. A&T needs her to have a true breakout season.
"April needs to have a great season to reinforce hard work does pay off," said Williams.
He will also look to junior Amber Brown and sophomore Cherise Poole to play strong supporting roles. Brown bowled a career-best 212 MEAC Southern Division Meet last January, while Poole bowled a career-high 205 at the Lady Bulldog Classic two weeks later. Janae McCaskey also returns from last year's team.
Williams hopes his four returning players will be able to use their experiences to help the Aggies qualify for MEAC Championship, which is held in their hometown of Greensboro, N.C. Despite the championship being held within proximity of N.C. A&T, the Aggies haven't qualified in two years. Williams said the formula for returning is simple.
"Make spares," he said. "We left a lot of pins on the deck last year by missing spares. They were spares that would have prevented us from losing, thus preventing us from making the MEAC Championships."
Once the Aggies get back there, the challenges become even greater now that the conference is strong in bowling. But being surrounded by outstanding competition is the way the Aggies want it. It is just a matter how you take down the giants.
"We need mental toughness, and a better understanding of the lanes and what needs to be done to improve our scoring opportunities," said Williams. "And we must improve our accuracy."