Unbeaten Saint Vincent women's bowling team on quite a roll
Breeze through the office of Saint Vincent sports information director Jeff Zidek and one gets a quick sense of his passion for bowling, along with his sense of humor.
Zidek also is the the coach of the women’s bowling team at the school, and he’s a bit nostalgic.
When Saint Vincent tore out the old bowling lanes years ago, Zidek had portions of it repurposed into a few tables that sit in his office. There’s also a “The Big Lebowski” movie poster hanging on the wall to tie the room together.
“It was nice to see his office all decorated like that and to have some bowling pride,” said Meghan Christman, a freshman standout. “I loved seeing the pieces of the lanes, and it was a very welcoming atmosphere to be in.”
The women’s bowling team is swelling with pride these days. In just the program’s second season, the Bearcats are atop the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference and are the only undefeated women’s bowling team across all three divisions.
“I feel as though, in Year 2, we are hitting a point that I hoped to hit by year four or five,” said Zidek, who has been Saint Vincent’s SID since 2003. “It’s progressed very, very quickly because there is so much talent out there.”
Zidek’s right. Western Pennsylvania is a hotbed for bowling talent, but Saint Vincent (12-0) expanded its recruiting search. The Bearcats first big score was Dani Koehler, a Rockledge, Fla., native. Koehler was considered one of the top high-school bowlers in Florida and turned down a number of Division I offers to help put Saint Vincent on the collegiate bowling map.
Koehler anchors the Bearcats lineup and is about as much of a sure thing as it gets in bowling. The sophomore is tops in the conference with a 47-percent strike rate.
“She had some legit Division I offers from the midwest and down south,” Zidek said. “She legitimized our program from the start. We had a legitimate 200 bowler join our team. I became a much better coach the day she decided to come to Saint Vincent. She’s the queen bee here.”
Besides Koehler, Zidek didn’t have to go far to recruit. All he did was show up at the 2018 Western Pa. Interscholastic Bowling League girls championships and make his pitch.
He snagged two bowlers — freshmen Abby Kyle and Mercedes Belch — from WPIBL champion Butler and also lured Plum’s top bowler in Christman, who was the WPIBL singles champ her junior year at Plum. Growing up, she was “dead set” on attending Duquesne.
He brought in seven freshmen this year.
“Of the top 25 schools where Saint Vincent draws student students from, 19 of the 25 had high school bowling,” Zidek said. “When you’re looking to recruit general students, you have to take that into consideration, and there’s too many programs in the area to ignore it.”
Saint Vincent brought in two-time northeast Ohio champ Jessica Guesman, along with local talent in Greensburg-Salem’s Rachael Heater, who helped lead the Lions to a third-place finish in the WPIBL her senior season.
The quintet of bowlers has the Bearcats on quite a run, but Zidek’s not naive. He knows his young team is likely to lose at some points, but if everything works out, the Bearcats could crash the party at the NCAA women’s bowling championships next April in Cleveland.
“We’re going to be a very, very good program in a year or som but this is still learning year for them,” Zidek said. “The talent is there, and it’s up to me to get it out of them.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.