GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T bowling team will resume their campaign for the MEAC Southern Division crown and their fifth conference championship title this weekend.
The Aggies, who are 16-12 overall and just three games behind first-place Norfolk State with a 10-6 conference record, are set to compete in the Frederick Underwood Lady Bulldogs Classic from Jan. 18-20, hosted by Bowie State.
"When I met with the team yesterday, I saw something I hadn't seen before. They all came back with confidence and ready to get to the grind ahead of them," he said. "With the amount of travel and tournaments, it's truly going to be a grind for us. But in just looking in their eyes yesterday, I saw confidence and a commitment to 'Competitive Greatness.'"
The Frederick Underwood Lady Bulldogs Classic tournament was actually added to the A&T schedule last fall, as Hurricane Sandy took away the team's chance to compete in November at the FDU New Jersey Jamboree. Originally, the Aggies were scheduled to have their first tournament of 2013 in February. Williams said that he chose this tournament to add to the schedule because of the date and location, and because competing in January would be a good measuring stick for the team.
"I know they have had a long layoff. From the physical stand point, I'm not expecting anything more than what they gave at the last MEAC, which was great effort," Williams said. "But from a mental or competitive stand point, I want to see the ladies really start delivering the knockout blow, especially if they are in a situation to do so. Continue to develop that killer instinct and just continue to get better with maintaining their focus."
The Aggies have plenty of reasons to be confident heading into the second half of their season. They are averaging a conference-best 975.6 pins in head-to-head matches this season, and all five of the team's players are averaging at least a 170 after the first three tournaments of the season.
Senior Amber Brown holds a career-best 179.4 average, and is coming off bowling a season-high 229 against Bethune-Cookman in the team's last meet. Junior Cherise Poole bowled a 245 during the MEAC Southern Divisional Meet # 2 Tournament in December, which is the ninth best individual game in the conference this season. Poole is also averaging a career-best 178.9 this season.
While the leadership of his upperclassmen has been key this season, the Aggies have also gotten standout performances from the three newcomers, who make up Williams' first recruiting class. Freshman Emily Strombeck boasts the best average on the team at 191.5, and has a team-high 2,489 total pinfalls. Junior transfer Courtney Crook is averaging a 179.2, while freshman Najah Owens is bowling a 171.6 this season.
This weekend's tournament is the first of three before the Aggies take on the Southern Division in the final meet in March to determine who advances to the conference championship tournament.
"Ultimately, the goal is to make and win a MEAC Championship," said Williams. "To do that, we just need to continue to grow as a unit, to continue to work on different aspects of our game."
Williams wants to develop a secondary strategy when the primary one no longer works.
"We'll use these next three tournaments to further learn about each other and the type of adjustments that are best for the team as a whole, so that when we get to MEAC (Southern Divisional Meet #3) we are even more prepared than we have been," he said.