WSU Bowling Team | Photo by Wright State Bowling | The Wright State University
After 16 years as a top national club program, Wright State University women’s bowling finishes its first season as a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I program.
The program has even won national championships, but now it can offer athletes scholarships, academic support and university backing. That change has made all the difference for head coach Jeff Fleck, assistant coach Colleen McKee and the athletes.
“It is so nice to be able to give that to someone,” McKee said. “We can say, ‘You’re a great bowler and your grades are really great, we’d love to have you come and here’s this as well.’”
Hitting the ground running
To turn from a club team to a Division I program over the summer took a lot of adjustment for the players and coaching staff. All members involved had new rules, regulations and styles of play to adjust to.
“It was quite a unique change,” Fleck said. “Competition was a lot stiffer for us, so in our first couple of tournaments, we realized just how good some of these teams are in the NCAA realm.”
The Raiders struggled in early competitions, finishing near the bottom of the pack in most of the competitions during the fall. In its second large tournament, the team finished eleventh out of 14 teams, falling to programs like Duquesne, Arkansas State and Nebraska.
But, WSU was able to adjust by the end of the season, finishing forty seventh out of over 100 in the NCAA rankings. In its very first season, finishing in the middle of the pack in all competition is quite the accomplishment.
“As we got used to the adjustment and got over the nerves, we became more competitive,” Alexandra Drsek, a third year bowler in the program, said. “With a whole new team, we were able to get to know each other better and learn more about the game to become better bowlers.”
The impact of support
One of the biggest differences between being an NCAA program and a club team is the support players receive from the university. Division I athletes partake in study tables, get academic advisors and receive scholarships to take the stress out of competing.
McKee was a standout player for the club program while the assistant coach was a student at Wright State. Now, McKee can see how the current support is helping the athletes.
“It’s been a huge change because when I was a student athlete, we had to advocate for ourselves in every aspect,” McKee said. “Now, we have an academic advisor that helps them to schedule their classes and work things around our schedule, which is wonderful.”
Drsek and other teammates can now also monitor personal time more effectively, as the advisors can email professors if the athletes have to miss class and create athletes’ schedules to fit around increased practices.
“Before, we had no way to keep ourselves accountable until it was too late,” Drsek said. “Now, we have people monitoring our grades to make sure that we are on top of things that we need to be.”
With a solid first season and the ability to recruit athletes through scholarships, the new program seems to have a bright future.