2012 USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships
Friday, May 18, 10 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Things did not quite work out for Midland University’s Erin McCarthy at the school she first bowled for as a freshman, so she left. The second school for which she signed up to bowl abruptly closed down before she even had the chance to wear its uniform. Most people might have assumed by then that it just was not mean to be. But most people are not Erin McCarthy.
That immediately becomes apparent to those who catch a glimpse of McCarthy at any tournament she bowls. A quiet kid with bushy hair, glasses and a 5-foot-5 frame in which she packs all of her 100 pounds, she does not exactly cut an intimidating figure.
Then you watch her throw a bowling ball.
“At first she was very intimidating,” says McCarthy’s Midland teammate, freshman Katie Maher. “I would see her bowling the Greater Iowa Scholarship Bowling Tour and I didn’t want to talk to her during match play because I was afraid she might get mad or something.”
The atmosphere at most college bowling tournaments is colored by the chants and screams of fist-pumping players riling up their teammates after key strikes. Then there is McCarthy, who quietly takes the approach, rips the cover off the ball and packs the pocket. Then she turns around with the expressionless face of a seasoned poker player, slaps five with teammates and returns to her seat.
Usually, she will have done this without uttering a sound. The ball she throws does enough talking. And she knows it.
“For someone to be that confident and that sure of themselves, I am sure that can be very intimidating to people on the other team,” says McCarthy’s fellow Midland Warrior, Kristen Ruzicka. “She just knows she has made a great shot, and to be that calm about it, it makes an impression.”
It may seem like an intimidating way of going about things, but for McCarthy, it is the only way.
“Yeah, she goes about her business without saying much,” says J.J. Mastny, head coach of the Midland bowling program. “She is all about making the shots and letting her bowling speak for itself. And she throws a great ball.
“With the power she generates, she is just an anomaly among female players,” Mastny adds. “Especially when you consider her size; she’s just a scrawny little thing, but the way she throws the ball, she’s like a freak of nature. She puts revs on the ball that people twice her size can’t get.”
Mastny is not the first coach in McCarthy’s life to learn that it is not the size of the bowler that makes the game. The first time she took the lanes at a college bowling tournament for the Nebraska Huskers—the team she first bowled for early in her collegiate career—her 237 average bested every Husker, men and women, at the Capital City Collegiate Classic. She won the tournament handily.
Just months earlier, she had defeated former Junior Team USA members and USBC Junior Gold champions Brittni Hamilton and Kristie Petravich en route to her 2008 North Pointe Invitational title. Not bad for the scrawny kid from Omaha who says she had “never really won anything” before then and only learned of the world of collegiate bowling well into her senior year of high school.
“I had never accomplished anything like that before,” McCarthy says. “So it really gave me a boost of confidence and let me know I could compete at the college level. I just wish I hadn’t found out about college bowling so late in my high school career, because I wasn’t able to really take advantage of everything it has to offer. But without college bowling, I would not be where I am at today.”
It was not too long ago that McCarthy had no idea where she would be. After that first stellar year at Nebraska, she decided to transfer. Mastny, who bowled the same PBA Experience leagues as McCarthy in and around the Omaha area, had signed on to coach the bowling team at a place called Dana College in Blair, Neb. Thrilled by the chance for a new start in her college bowling career, McCarthy promptly followed him there.
Then they got the news.
“On July 1, 2010, the school just up and closed,” Mastny explains. “They lost their accreditation, and they said ‘Sorry, this is not what we were expecting to happen.’ We were never led to believe that sort of thing could happen.”
But it did happen, leaving Mastny and every bowler he signed to bowl at Dana out of luck.
Enter Midland University.
Midland is just 30 miles down the road from Blair, in a place called Fremont, Neb. When news of Dana College’s abrupt demise made it to Fremont, Midland swiped up several of the defunct school’s athletic programs, including sports like wrestling, lacrosse and, yes, bowling.
“Not many people know it, and it’s not what we’re about, but I think the thing that binds is the fact that everybody was going to be a Dana College Viking, but nobody ever was,” Mastny explains. “We never even put on the uniform. Of the 31 kids we had going to Dana that fall, 29 ended up coming to Midland.
“There’s been a bond among this group of kids ever since, and Erin has really been the glue that’s held everything together. She’s the fuel that has kept everybody working harder and working toward their potential.”
McCarthy picked up with Midland right where she left off at Nebraska. In the first tournament of the first year of the Midland bowling program’s existence—the 2010 Midwest Collegiate Championships in Milwaukee—the women’s team led the tournament after day one. By the time the tournament was through, the team had finished third. And McCarthy, just as she had done at Nebraska a few years earlier, won the individual title.
“They were ready to go, and it showed,” Mastny says.
They always are, thanks in no small part to the quiet and self-assured tenacity with which McCarthy attacks the pocket.
“She has no fear of anybody,’ Mastny says. “Male, female, junior, senior, she will lace up against anybody, and she really has brought that to the table for the rest of the team. They see how fearless she can be, and they understand that together they can go all the way.”
The team that will bowl Webber International for the 2012 women’s United States Bowling Congress Intercollegiate Team Championships title on national television is a team that had every reason to believe their Cinderella story would reach the stroke of midnight sooner than they had hoped.
Lindenwood, a storied bowling program whose women’s team won the ITC title in 2006, blasted Midland with a baker game of 299 in a sweep.
“That’s really hard to fight back from,” Katie Maher says.
And who did the Warriors have to beat to have any hope of moving on after that devastating loss? Oh, only the most celebrated program in all of collegiate bowling: Wichita State.
“Erin just kept reminding us that Wichita may be a great team, but every team has their moments when they give you an opportunity to step up and prove how good you are,” recalls Kristen Ruzicka.
That is a reminder the Midland women’s bowling team will not need for a while. The team that did not even exist just 24 months earlier shocked the Shockers, and then went on to defeat Lindenwood not once, but twice, to make it to the TV show.
And to the surprise of exactly no one who had seen McCarthy bowl in the past few years, she took home the 2012 ITC Most Valuable Player award.
“It definitely was a really good way to go out, especially after how I started my college bowling career,” McCarthy says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
It may have been the end for McCarthy, a graduating senior who soon will attend the accelerated nursing program at Creighton University. But with recent news of the 16 players that have committed to bowl for Mastny this fall, the 2011-12 season may only be the beginning of what’s to come for the Midland bowling program.