In 2009, SFA introduced its fans to a brand-new sports program—bowling. Ten years later, fans gathered in the plaza to celebrate one of the most successful programs in SFA’s history as the bowling team brought the school its second national championship.
On April 13, The Ladyjacks battled and conquered No. 1-ranked and 2018 national champion Vanderbilt in the championship match to bring home the trophy. Dakotah Hazlewood bowled the final strike to clinch the win for the Ladyjacks and immediately grabbed the trophy and celebrated with the team.
“After the strike, I couldn’t get back to my team fast enough,” Hazlewood said. “It’s something that you’ve worked so hard for. Bowling is definitely a sport that runs all year long. It’s literally sun up to sun down two semesters long, and we’ve worked so hard for it and we got to experience winning together.
“We were very emotional. It’s a happy and exciting time, but personally, I think I was honestly shocked and speechless that we had done it, because we were so underestimated,” said Paige Beeney, senior bowler. “It felt good to prove everyone that we belonged to be called champion.”
To begin the tournament, the Ladyjacks faced off against Prairie View A&M in the opening round in Houston. After a 2-0 victory, the team made its way to the eight-team championship bracket held in Wickliffe, Ohio.
“It’s definitely a grind and wore on us pretty hard because it was do-or-die at that point,” Hazlewood said. “There was a little bit more pressure on everyone as a team because it is the national championship, and we had to go through the final eight.”
In the championship bracket, the Ladyjacks had to battle through No. 4-ranked Sam Houston, No. 2 McKendree and No. 8 Maryland-Eastern Shore before the championship game against Vanderbilt.
“We were really underestimated this year.
Teams set us aside, but in our minds, we had nothing else to lose. We were the underdogs,” Beeney said. “I think the play- in was actually an advantage because it got us in the right mindset of do-or-die, lose and go home or win and advance.”
For Hazlewood and Beeney, raising a national championship trophy is a familiar feeling, as the two are the only remaining players from the 2016 championship team. The two stand as the only two-time national champions in school history.
“We both worked so hard all four years, so to say that we are two-time national champions has a really nice ring to it,” Beeney said. “It was a great way to start and end our career, so I think we’re really proud.”
Hazlewood and Beeney both collected All-American accolades with Hazlewood selected as All-American First Team, and Beeney gained Honorable Mention. Beeney was named the NCAA Tournament MVP, and Hazlewood was named to the All-Tournament Team.
“There’s not a lot of people who can say they’ve won a national championship let alone be able to say they’ve won two,” Hazlewood added. “It’s a cool feeling that I can take with me for the rest of my life. We accomplished something massive, and I’m glad we were able to take the rest of our team with us so they can experience it as well.”
Head coach Amber Lemke has made a profound impact on the bowling program in her six years at the helm, molding it into one of the elite bowling programs in the nation. The accomplishment marks the second team she has led to winning the national championship.
“I feel like nothing will ever take the place of the first [national championship team], but I think this group had to work extra hard for this to happen,” Lemke said. “We had a really slow start at the beginning of the year, so we knew we had a lot of work to put in to get there in the first place. So, for this to be the outcome at the end makes it even better because it was extra hard work that had to go in to get here.”
Upon returning to Nacogdoches, the Ladyjacks were welcomed home as champions by the SFA and the community. On April 23, hundreds of people gathered in the plaza to celebrate the moment.
“SFA has done a really good job of making people understand how big of a deal [the championship] is,” Lemke said. “It’s bringing a lot of recognition to the city and to the school, and obviously our main goal has always been to represent SFA and representing them the best we can.”
Hazlewood said, “It’s definitely encouraging, and I think the support we’re getting is great because it’s letting other people know that bowling is real and intense.
“Having that encouragement and support has meant the world to us because we feel it. Even when we’re thousands of miles away, we feel that encouragement and support,” Hazlewood said. “It helps push us along, and we want to do this for us and for our community back at home as well.”