Bowling into Sam Houston hearts, Kats finish No. 4 in nation after semifinal exit

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The Sam Houston State bowling team wrapped up a strong 2016-17 season, finishing with an impressive 102-47 record and making it to the NCAA semi-finals.

The Bearkats started the season ranked No. 6 in the country and had a strong start, placing first three times in their first four tournaments. During that span, the Kats notched a 47-21 record.

“This season was definitely a good one for us,” junior Heather Penatzer said. “We won four out of five tournaments during the fall semester, which was extraordinary.  After losing three seniors last year and gaining three freshmen, the team dynamic was much different.  However, that didn’t hold us back one bit.”

One of those tournaments was the Kat Klash, an annual event hosted by SHSU in Houston that included top teams in the nation such as Stephen F. Austin and Nebraska. SHSU finished the tournament in the top spot with an 11-3 record.

“Winning our home tournament in November was definitely a highlight,” junior Heather Penatzer said. “We led for most, if not all of the tournament, and we beat Nebraska in the finals.  Nebraska was ranked No. 1 nationally at the time and had won the tournament for the previous few years.  Winning at home is always satisfying, especially against such a strong field.”

After a strong start to the fall semester, the Bearkats had a rocky start to the second half of the season. The Kats started off the second half with a sixth placed finish at the PV A&M Invitational in Arlington. SHSU went on to place in the top three in two out of their six remaining tournaments.

“The spring semester started out shaky for us,” Penatzer said. “But we managed to pull things together in time to give the National Championship a run.”

Before making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Kats traveled to Jonesboro, Ark. to compete in the Southland Bowling League Championship. SHSU finished the conference tournament with a 4-1 record and were the runners-up after being swept by Arkansas State.

“It wasn’t the way we wanted to end the regular season,” sophomore Madysen Keller said. “But we had to keep our heads up and come back stronger for the National Championship.”

The Bearkats entered the national tournament ranked No. 4 in the nation and were the eighth seed. After qualifying rounds, SHSU went 2-2 overall and was eliminated from match play by top-seeded McKendree in the semifinals. McKendree went on to win the national title.

“While we didn’t achieve our goal of winning the tournament, reaching the top four was a great finish,” Penatzer said. “In the past four years, SHSU has reached the semifinals or higher three times, which is an incredible achievement.  The resilience and perseverance shown by the team in match play was incredible, and our climb out of the losers’ bracket to the semifinals was one of our greatest accomplishments this season.”

With the season ending, the SHSU bowling team will say farewell to its two seniors.  One of who is Randi Speiler. She not only had a huge impact in the bowling lanes, but with her teammates as well.

“Randi really helped me out with my grades,” Keller said. “I really struggled with my education and to get to where I am. I had to raise up my GPA. She put me in the right mind set. It going to be sad to see her go.”

Janine Kuwagara will also be graduating this spring. Kuwahara has been a member of SHSU’s bowling team for the past four years, has earned back-to-back NCAA Elite 90 awards and has appeared in the national tournament in all four years of her Bearkat career.

“She has been a model to her peers,” head coach Brad Hagen said. “She has had one of the most successful careers of any Bearkat bowler to date. To graduate with a top three career average and back-to-back NCAA Elite 90 awards is amazing.”

Since the season has ended, the bowling team’s focus is to recruit more talent for the upcoming season.

“Right now our priorities are finalizing any needs of the team and recruitment efforts for next season as August will be here very quickly,” Hagen said. “We have voids that still need to be filled and team meetings to strategize the needs of those returnees and the expectations that follow moving forward.”

The Bearkats will return to the lanes seeking the school’s second National Championship, first since 2014, in the fall.