The Medaille College bowlers knew from the start that there was a target on their backs. That will happen when you’ve won four straight conference championships, when you’ve built a little kegling dynasty in North Buffalo.
Jeff Walsh, who was in his first year as head coach, said everyone felt the pressure to keep the streak going. But the Maverick women didn’t run from it. Sarah Radt, their junior and leader, said they embraced it.
“Yes, yes,” Radt said Tuesday. “I talked with a few of my teammates last weekend, and they said they loved the pressure. It’s nice to know other people like it, too, because it puts us on another competitive stage.”
Sure enough, Medaille got a big challenge over the weekend at the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference tournament in Beaver Falls, Pa. They were the No. 2 seed, and in their second match on Saturday, they lost in a tiebreaker to the top seed, St. Vincent of Latrobe, Pa.
That meant getting tossed into the losers bracket, needing to make a run to capture that fifth straight championship ring — or “one for the thumb.” The Mavericks came back later Saturday and took a convincing 2-0 win to eliminate Pitt-Bradford and earn another shot at St. Vincent.
Actually it was two shots. They had to beat St. Vincent twice on Sunday at Sims Lanes in the double-elimination format. No margin for error? No problem. They had St. Vincent right where they wanted them.
“I didn’t have to say anything to them Sunday,” Walsh said. “It was kind of funny. They walked in and there was never any doubt in my mind. They had their little meeting ahead of time. I walked over to them, and I could kind of see in their eyes.”
Walsh looked at his players and simply said, ‘I don’t have much to say. Let’s just do it.’
“Coach Peggy (assistant Kuhn) and I kind of stood back,” Walsh said. “We helped them with some moves here and there we needed to make. We made a couple of changes here and there as the match went along. Other than that, they did exactly what we teach.”
They rose to the occasion, controlling the pocket, making their spares, avoiding big mistakes and showing why they had won the AMCC championship four years in a row.
On Sunday, Medaille beat St. Vincent in the traditional match, 1,014-958, as Paige Snook led the way with a 224 and Taylor Strickland a 210. Then they won the Baker match — in which five players alternate shots — to hand force a decisive best-of-seven Baker match for the championship.
It wasn’t close. The Mavericks won the tiebreaker, four games to one, with all four victories coming in one-sided fashion.
Yeah, the target on their backs was big, but so was their ability to rise to the challenge.
“They stepped up in big moments,” Walsh said. “Across the board. We had a couple of really good standouts. Kendyll (Jaskier) bowled great, Taylor bowled great, Sarah bowled great. But top to bottom, this was 100 percent, Friday to Sunday, a team effort.
“Everybody played, everybody had a hand in it. It was pretty incredible. It was great to see kids step up.”
It was especially encouraging to see so many young players respond. Strickland is a freshman. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Jaskier, a sophomore from West Seneca. Snook is a sophomore.
Radt, an Orchard Park grad who was the AMCC bowler of the year in 2021 and a two-time Medaille female athlete of the year, is a junior. It was encouraging, and a testament to the team’s depth, to see younger teammates shoulder much of the pressure.
“Exactly,” said Radt, who won three Section VI titles at OP. “Coach Jeff and Coach Peggy are recruiting well, picking up great players. The incoming class is going to be really strong. So it just keeps building us up.”
As AMCC champs, the Mavericks earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, their third in a row. There are 16 teams in the field, includimg schools from Division I, II and III. Medaille is D-III. Eight of the teams are conference champions and the other eight at-large.
The NCAA selection show is Wednesday at 4 p.m. Medaille will be placed in one of four regional pods from April 8-10. Walsh said he figures his team will wind up in Rochester or Erie, Pa. The Final Four will be in Columbus, Ohio, the following weekend.
“We’re already in the Sweet 16,” said Walsh, who helped build Medaille into a power as an assistant for five years before taking over for Laura Edholm this season.
The Mavericks will be an underdog, but they’ve been through it before. Last year, they beat Nebraska in the opening NCAA tourney match in a colossal upset. Nebraska rallied to win the regional title and went on to capture the national championship.
“I was joking around with a parent Sunday and said, ‘We’re playing on house money now,’” Walsh said. “Anything can happen. You give a team like us an opportunity and you never know what will happen.”
Whatever the case, Medaille has a fifth straight league title. Walsh said it was important for this group to create its own legacy. He said they felt the pressure after three seniors graduated from the 2021 championship squad.
“They wanted to kind of set their own thing,” Walsh said, “and they did. And I’m proud of them.”
Now the target on their backs gets a little bigger.
“Yeah, it sure does,” Walsh said. “Bring it on. That’s the way I feel.”