Inaugural USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame class inducted, MVPs and All-Americans named at Night of Champions banquet

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The inaugural class of the United States Bowling Congress Collegiate Hall of Fame was inducted and the Most Valuable Players of the 2023-2024 collegiate season were named by the National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association (NCBCA) and the Storm/International Bowling Media Association (IBMA) during the annual Night of Champions banquet at the Louisville Marriott East on Wednesday night.

Jack Connaughton of Lafayette, Indiana; Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey; and Rick Steelsmith of Wichita, Kansas, earned induction for their on-lane performances as Student-Athletes. Gordon Vadakin of Wichita, Kansas, joined the inaugural class in the Coach category. Karl Nickolai of Canton, Michigan, completed the 2024 class for his dedication to collegiate bowling as a Contributor.

Speaking of contributions, it would be difficult to argue that anyone did more for their respective teams this season than Wichita State’s Spencer Robarge and Webber International’s Jaqueline Witura, and that is why both were named the NCBCA’s Most Valuable Players and the IBMA Bowlers of the Year for the 2023-2024 USBC Collegiate season. For Robarge, it marks the second consecutive year he’s brought home collegiate bowling’s top individual men’s honors.

The inductions took place and honors were bestowed during the annual Night of Champions banquet, which serves as the kickoff to the Intercollegiate Team Championships. 

This year’s banquet, which was broadcast live at, was special not only because it incorporated the enshrinement of the first set of USBC Collegiate Hall of Famers but it also set the stage for the start of the 50th edition of collegiate bowling’s national championship team competition.

Robarge, who in addition to sweeping both men’s top individual honors in 2023, was the 2022 NCBCA Rookie of the Year. This season, he averaged more than 225 over nine events and posted an average differential of 42.32 to lead the nation in both categories as a junior. He also was near the top of both categories in Tier I competition (223.38 and 40.03) to help the Shockers to the top of the team rankings for the regular season.

He collected one individual victory and six top-five finishes during the year. During the Mid-States Championships in October, the two-hander topped the men’s field by nearly 100 pins after authoring a six-game total of 1,461 (243.5 average). No other men’s competitor averaged higher than 229.

Robarge was joined on this year’s NCBCA All-America first team by fellow Wichita State bowlers Ryan Barnes and Brandon Bonta as well as Bryce Oliver of Pikeville and CJ Petrin of Oklahoma Christian.

Zach Andresen of Mount Mercy was named the NCBCA Rookie of the Year after securing one win, four top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes and averaging 212.5 during the season.

Witura, a senior for the Warriors, finished the regular season second in both average (208.36) and average differential (36.29) over 11 total events; however, she topped all women’s competitors in both statistics across five Tier I events (211.21 and 37.95).

She posted three individual wins and six top-five finishes to help Webber secure fifth place in the women’s regular season team rankings.

Witura earned her second NCBCA All-America nomination – she was named an Honorable Mention during the 2021-2022 season – and was joined on the first team by Webber teammate Linda Himes, Lara Kurt of Savannah College of Art and Design – Savannah, Mary Orf of Wichita State and Mount Mercy’s Brooke Salzman.

Salzman also earned NCBCA Rookie of the Year honors after leading the nation in average differential (36.90) and collecting two individual wins on the way to a 204.49 average.

The NCBCA Gordon Vadakin and Kerm Helmer Coach of the Year awards were presented to Grand Canyon’s Ben Canfield and Pikeville’s Bobby Brown, respectively.

Canfield earned the award for the first time in his career after helping GCU achieve just its second ITC national finals berth in team history and the No. 18 ranking for the 2023-2024 regular season.

Brown claims the Kerm Helmer Coach of the Year after being named the Gordon Vadakin Coach of the Year for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Brown helped Pikeville finish the regular season ranked No. 4 overall.

The Gordon Vadakin Coach of the Year award recognizes the top coach in the men’s division, and the Kerm Helmer Coach of the Year award is given to the top coach in the women’s division.

Mike Fine was recognized as the Gordon Teigen Meritorious Service Award winner for 2024. Fine, the head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at Florida State, was twice named to the Bowlers Journal “Top 100 Bowling Coaches in America” and currently serves on the USBC Collegiate Advisory Council representing the interests of all collegiate bowling programs and the USBC Collegiate Division. He also serves as Secretary/Rules Editor for NCAA Women’s Bowling. 

The annual award is presented to an individual for outstanding service to collegiate bowling.

Wednesday night’s five Hall of Fame inductees certainly made their own contributions to the world of collegiate bowling.

Connaughton was a standout at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (previously Wisconsin State University-La Crosse) from 1964-1968 and dominated competition across the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) ranks.

In ACUI competition, Connaughton swept the top spots at the 1967 national finals, winning singles, doubles and all-events. He returned in 1968 to successfully defend his titles in singles and all-events, while finishing fourth in doubles.

During the same two-year span at the NAIA Championship, Connaughton helped Wisconsin-La Crosse win back-to-back team titles, claimed a pair of wins in doubles competition and recorded a first-place finish in singles at the 1968 event. He finished as the runner-up in singles in 1967.

In 1966, he led Wisconsin-La Crosse to the National Intercollegiate Bowling Association (NIBA) team title.

Connaughton, originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin, traveled to Paris, France, in 1967 as the first collegiate representative of the United States at the famed World Cup, where he captured the victory.

He has received numerous awards and honors and is a member of the NAIA, Kansas State USBC and Wisconsin State USBC Halls of Fame.

When reflecting upon all that he accomplished over the years as a bowler, Connaughton noted his slight disappointment that neither his wife Gloria nor his daughter Stacey were ever present to see him roll a 300 game; nevertheless, the fact that Stacey was with him on induction night in Louisville more than made up for it.

“Stacey is an only child, and we’ve always enjoyed sports and shared a special bond watching sports, so it’s really neat to share this moment together with her being here as I go into the Collegiate Hall of Fame,” Connaughton said. “Her mom couldn’t make it, so I’m glad that Stacey and I could experience this together and bring a piece of that home.” 

Kulick was a collegiate star at Morehead State University from 1995-1999 before ascending as one of the biggest names in the sport through her triumphs on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) and Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tours and as a member of Team USA.

After earning a spot as a second-team All-American from the NCBCA her freshman season, Kulick rattled off three consecutive first-team selections. She was named the NCBCA Most Valuable Player in each of those seasons (1996-1997, 1997-1998 and 1998-1999).

Kulick also was the recipient of the IBMA Collegiate Bowler of the Year award in 1997 and 1998.

Fans from across the globe have watched Kulick deliver clutch strikes to claim seven PWBA Tour titles (including five major championships) and more than 20 gold medals as a member of Team USA and Junior Team USA. In 2010, she garnered global praise as she became the first woman to win a national title on the PBA Tour with her major victory at the PBA Tournament of Champions.

She set the stage for those moments in 1998 at the Intercollegiate Team Championships in Madison, Wisconsin. In the two-game total-pinfall championship against Central Missouri State, Kulick stepped up in a must-strike situation for the Eagles and rolled two strikes to secure the program’s second national title.

Kulick was inducted to the USBC Hall of Fame in 2019 for Superior Performance.

Although Kulick is well aware of the fact that her collegiate bowling accomplishments rank up there with those of the all-time greats, she was, nevertheless, humbled when she found out that she would be part of the first USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame class.

“All my predecessors, the people that were ahead of me that brought me the dreams and ideals of what college bowling was, Lynda Barnes, Kim Kearney, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard and others, I got to watch them set the pace in college and then again on the PWBA Tour,” Kulick said. “After all that they accomplished, for me to be in this first class is unexpected. It’s beyond words to say that the committee thought that I was worthy of being inducted in this inaugural class.”   

Steelsmith became the first four-time NCBCA first-team All-American in the men’s division during his tenure at Vincennes University and Wichita State University from 1983-1987.

During his two-year stint at Vincennes, Steelsmith helped the Trailblazers win the 1985 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) team championship. He also claimed the national singles title for NJCAA in 1985.

Making his move to Wichita State for his junior and senior campaigns, Steelsmith continued to showcase his talent at the top level. He helped the Shockers to a third-place finish at the Intercollegiate Team Championships in 1986, earning the honor of Most Valuable Player for the all-tournament team.

Steelsmith put together his finest showing in 1987. He was named the NCBCA Most Valuable Player and IBMA Collegiate Bowler of the Year, again earned MVP honors at the Intercollegiate Team Championships and helped the Shockers record the team victory at the ITC.

Shortly after concluding his collegiate season, he went on to win the USBC Masters as an amateur and claimed two gold medals (trios, all-events), one silver medal (Masters) and two bronze medals (singles, doubles) for Team USA at the International Bowling Federation World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

At the start of the 2019-2020 season, Steelsmith took over as the men’s head bowling coach at Wichita State and has helped the Shockers win the 2021 and 2023 Intercollegiate Team Championships.

Steelsmith, the 1988 PBA Rookie of the Year and two-time PBA Tour champion, is a member of the NJCAA, Kansas State USBC and USBC (2013) Halls of Fame.

Those credentials make it obvious as to why Steelsmith was selected as part of USBC Collegiate’s first Hall of Fame class; nevertheless, when looking back on his years on the lanes as a collegiate bowler, Steelsmith was quick to give credit to those around him.

“I was just blessed with a bunch of good teammates at both places, Vincennes and Wichita State. They were great guys, and we shared a common interest and passion for bowling,” Steelsmith said. “I got to experience collegiate bowling with that great group of friends, which helped develop me a lot further than where I was when I arrived. Also, it allowed me to experience success and everything that came with it, which eventually led to this.”

Vadakin was at the helm of the Wichita State University men’s and women’s bowling programs from 1978-2019 and helped the Shockers claim 18 national titles between both teams.

The men’s program collected 11 Intercollegiate Team Championships titles during Vadakin’s tenure (1980, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2015), and the men’s team is the only program to record three consecutive wins at the ITC, having accomplished the feat two times (1993-1995 and 2008-2010).

The women’s team earned seven wins at the ITC under Vadakin’s watch, claiming victory in 1978, 1986, 1990, 1994, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

In all, the men’s program qualified for the ITC in 37 of Vadakin’s 42 years leading the program, while the women’s team earned their spot in 41 of 42 attempts, advancing each year since 1982.

Along with the team success, Vadakin also coached nine individual national champions (six at the Intercollegiate Singles Championships). He had 12 student-athletes claim a combined 24 NCBCA Most Valuable Player and IBMA Collegiate Bowler of the Year awards and coached 145 NCBCA All-Americans and nearly 250 academic All-Americans. At the professional ranks, Vadakin coached 17 athletes who went on to win PBA or PWBA Tour events.

In 2020, the NCBCA renamed its award to recognize the top coach in the men’s division as the NCBCA Gordon Vadakin Coach of the Year Award.

Vadakin, a two-time Team USA member and two-time Eagle winner at the USBC Open Championships, is a Kansas State USBC and USBC (2007) Hall of Famer.

Given the multitude of championships the Wichita State program secured under Vadakin’s guidance, it would be easy to assume that his focus was all about winning; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the legendary coach’s path to success and, now, the USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame, went much deeper than that.

“The student union philosophy is all about student development, so we tried to develop students,” Vadakin said. “We sought to develop people, students and bowlers, and it was people and students first and foremost; the bowlers part was really third. That’s where all of this started and what allowed all of this to happen, and it’s what continues with the program even now that I’m gone.”  

Nickolai started his involvement in collegiate bowling first as a student-athlete at Michigan State University before taking over as the head coach of the men’s program. He held the coaching spot with the Spartans for 35 years, and in 2001, became the first recipient of the NCBCA Kerm Helmer (now Gordon Vadakin) Coach of the Year Award.

He left a lasting mark in how the sport was consumed with the launching of in 1997. The website served as a place to view tournament results across the collegiate landscape, and it expanded over time to include rankings, statistics and player profiles. Nickolai maintained the website until 2020, when the site became part of USBC’s

Nickolai was responsible for several additional items used to help rank collegiate teams and student-athletes versus the field.

In 1998, he teamed with Joe Ciccone to develop the Team Ranking System (TRS), which is an objective point-based system for ranking schools on performance in regular-season tournaments and used today to help determine sectional assignments for the four qualifying events for the Intercollegiate Team Championships.

He also introduced average differential to the collegiate bowling scene, which measures the average for a student-athlete during an event and over the season against the field of competition.

Nickolai also has given his time to the NCBCA and has been a member since 1984. He has served two separate stints as the organization’s president (1992-1994 and 1998-2020) and was selected as the NCBCA Gordon Teigen Meritorious Service Award winner in 1999.

He also was recognized for his service in 2010 as the USBC Youth Volunteer of the Year and was presented the IBMA Alberta E. Crowe Meritorious Service Award in 2019.

As is the case with all of this year’s inductees, Nickolai’s path to the USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame was a long and winding one; nevertheless, he feels that each portion of the journey helped guide him toward where he is today.

“Certainly, what I learned as an athlete bowling on a collegiate bowling team taught me the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be a collegiate bowling coach where you basically need to be a travel agent, know how to enter tournaments, know how to coach the team and know the organizational skills that will keep things on track,” Nickolai said. “My experience as a coach at Michigan State over the course of 34 years meant the world to me. There were so many great memories, and that’s why I’m here today.”

The formation of the USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame was announced in November 2022, and nominations for the inaugural class were accepted through Jan. 5, 2024.

The USBC Collegiate Hall of Fame Committee reviewed the applications to determine the members of the 2024 class. The committee is comprised of 13 individuals, featuring representatives appointed by the USBC Collegiate Advisory Committee, USBC Hall of Fame members and veteran bowling writers. The committee only considered collegiate achievements when reviewing applications.

For more information on USBC Collegiate, visit


First Team
– Ryan Barnes, Wichita State; Brandon Bonta, Wichita State; Bryce Oliver, Pikeville; CJ Petrin, Oklahoma Christian; Spencer Robarge, Wichita State

Second Team – Rory Clark, Marian-Wisconsin; Brandon Haney, Indiana Tech; Michael Harmon, Saint Xavier; Alexander Horton, Indiana Tech; TJ Rock, Wichita State

Honorable Mention – Noah Akiona, Newman; Zach Andresen, Mount Mercy; Nolan Blessing, Marian-Indiana; Brandon Bohn, Webber International; Ryan Dreikosen, Marian-Wisconsin; Ken Kloth, Madonna; Garrett Meadows, Wisconsin-Whitewater; Julian Salinas, SCAD-Savannah; Evan Thro, Muskingum; AJ Wolstenholme, Webber International

Most Valuable Player – Spencer Robarge, Wichita State

Rookie of the Year – Zach Andresen, Mount Mercy

Gordon Vadakin Coach of the Year – Ben Canfield, Grand Canyon

First Team
– Linda Himes, Webber International; Lara Kurt, SCAD-Savannah; Mary Orf, Wichita State; Brooke Salzman, Mount Mercy; Jaqueline Witura, Webber International

Second Team – Kristina Catoe, Pikeville; Rebecca Hagerman, Jacksonville State; Allie Leiendecker, Louisiana Tech; Kinsey Miller, Baker; Ashtyn Woods, Wichita State

Honorable Mention – Alyssa Alexander, Mount St. Mary’s; Brystal Beyer, Stephen F. Austin; Denise Blankenzee, Sam Houston State; Megan Kolberg, Mount Mercy; Emaly Kruse, Morningside; Abbie Leiendecker, Louisiana Tech; Rachel Moore, Culver Stockton; Morgan Nunn, Indiana Tech; Patricia Rosales, Louisiana Tech; Kylee Trexler, Louisiana Tech

Most Valuable Player – Jaqueline Witura, Webber International

Rookie of the Year – Brooke Salzman, Mount Mercy

Kerm Helmer Coach of the Year – Bobby Brown, Pikeville

Gordon Teigen Meritorious Service Award – Mike Fine, Florida State


Bowler of the Year
– Spencer Robarge, Wichita State

Runners-Up – Jason Gee, UC-Davis; Brandon Haney, Indiana Tech; Bryce Oliver, Pikeville; CJ Petrin, Oklahoma Christian

Honorable Mention – Ryan Barnes, Wichita State; Brandon Bonta, Wichita State; Rory Clark, Marian-Wisconsin; Noah Samuels, Lawrence Tech

Bowler of the Year
– Jaqueline Witura, Webber International

Runners-Up – Crystal Elliott, Jacksonville State; Lara Kurt, SCAD-Savannah; Mary Orf, Wichita State; Brooke Salzman, Mount Mercy

Honorable Mention – Linda Himes, Webber International; Kinsey Miller, Baker; Lauren Tomaszewski, North Carolina A&T