With the start of the 2011-2012 bowling season right around the corner, the Valparaiso bowling team is looking towards its experience to push for a berth in the NCAA Bowling Championships in the third year of program existence.
The Crusaders have been consistently ranked among the nation’s top-15 teams since the program’s inception. While they start this season ranked 18th nationally, Valpo returns an experienced core of nine letterwinners and adds a redshirt and a pair of freshmen to the mix in its attempt to move to the next echelon of NCAA bowling programs and earn one of eight berths to the sport’s national championship.
Leading the Crusaders into competition this season will be first-year head coach Matt Nantais. Nantais came to Valparaiso after most recently spending a season as an assistant coach for the women’s squad at Robert Morris [Ill.] University. While there, Nantais helped guide the Lady Eagles as they reached the top spot in the nation in the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Intercollegiate Team national poll.
Robert Morris went on to close the season with a fifth-place finish at the National USBC Team Championships, as well as a third-place showing at the NAIA Team Championships. Prior to joining the Robert Morris coaching staff, Nantais spent the 2009-2010 season as assistant coach for the Lake Central H.S. girl’s team, which placed fifth in the state. During his year at Lake Central, he helped tutor current Crusader Kaity Galka.
The Crusaders’ core of experience is highlighted by the production they’ve received from this year’s four seniors. Highlighting the senior class, which boasted the team’s three highest averages a season ago, is Natalie Cortese. Cortese was named an NTCA Honorable Mention All-American last year after earning Second Team All-American accolades as a sophomore. She set a program record last year by posting a 200.1 season average, the first bowler in Crusader history to break 200 for a full season. Along the way, she was named MVP of the Crusader Classic and also earned two other All-Tournament accolades as well.
Amanda Cortese returns as well for her final season after registering a 187.8 average in 2010-2011, second-highest on the team. Amanda Cortese broke 200 in 12 traditional matches last season and boasted Valpo’s top average at the Jeanette Lee Invitational and the Music City Classic. Krystyna Johnson was right behind Amanda Cortese with a 186.7 average a season ago, third-best among Crusader bowlers. Johnson finished second on the team with 14 games of at least 200 and paced the Valpo keglers in action at the Hawk Classic and the Mid-Winter Classic. Rounding out the seniors is Jessica Guertin, who appeared in 16 traditional contests last season and posted a 172.9 average.
Valpo’s group of upperclassmen is rounded out by a trio of athletes with junior eligibility. Ashley Busiel averaged a 186.1 for the Crusaders last season in part-time action, pacing Valpo in three traditional matches. Morgan Sharp appeared 18 times in traditional action, registering the Crusaders’ high score three times, while Katie Shumaker competed in 10 traditional matches, recording a 176.1 average.
The Crusaders’ underclassmen are comprised of two bowlers with sophomore eligibility and three with first-year eligibility. Kaity Galka posted a 180.2 average in her first season with the Crusaders in 2010-2011 over 28 traditional matches, breaking 200 on four separate occasions. Jill Larson also returns for her second season after appearing in 19 contests in her freshman year. Alyssa Alvarez is in her second season at Valpo, but retained her freshman eligibility after redshirting last year. Joining the Crusaders for the first time in 2011-2012 are true freshmen Sadie Jasinski and Megan Tenorio.
The Crusaders’ season opens Oct. 28-30 at the Greater Ozark Invitational in Springfield, Mo., hosted by Central Missouri, before Valpo returns home to host the Crusader Classic from Nov. 11-13 at Stardust Bowl II in Merrillville. Valpo will also travel to Millsboro, Del. for Maryland Eastern Shore’s Hawk Classic before taking time off for the holidays.
Following the start of the new year, five more tournaments are on the docket for the Crusaders, as they will pay visits to tournaments hosted by Arkansas State, Nebraska, Prairie View A&M, Alabama A&M and Vanderbilt over the first three months of 2012. The NCAA Championships are being held in Cleveland, Ohio this year, with the nation’s top eight teams competing Apr. 12-14.