Landmark season rolls on for Mount Mercy women's bowling

Women's bowling: Mustangs qualify for USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships for first time in program's six-year history

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The lights flip on early at May City Bowl.

The venerable southwest Cedar Rapids bowling alley has long been the preferred practice locale for the Mount Mercy women’s bowling team. In order to mentally align with tournament times and avoid conflicts with classwork and league competition, practice begins at 6 a.m. sharp.

“We bowl in the morning,” third-year Mount Mercy Coach Andy Diercks said. “Our competitions always start at 7:30, 8 o’clock. … Our team from three years ago, when we had night practices, (compared) to now; we’re awake. We’re ready to go. Everybody is lively and joking and talking. Three years ago, it was a bus full of zombies.”

The sixth-year program experienced a breakthrough this season. After narrowly missing a berth in the prestigious U.S. Bowling Congress Intercollegiate Team Championship finals in each of the past three seasons, the Mustangs earned their first bid with a runner-up finish at a 17-team sectional qualifier that concluded March 12 at Addison, Ill.

“You could kind of tell from when the first ball was rolled … that they were going to go,” said Diercks, who was recently named as an assistant coach with Junior Team USA. “It was just the way it was going to be.”

The ITC finals run April 17-22 in Baton Rouge, La., and will crown a national champion from a 16-team, double-elimination bracket. Games are played using the Baker System — each bowler bowls a frame at a time as opposed to two bowlers bowling separate games — which requires essential contributions throughout the lineup.

“Bowling is such a mentally tough game,” senior Tara Trcka said. “Like basketball, you might miss a free throw but then you’re right back in the game. Whereas bowling, you miss a spare and then you’ve got 10 minutes to sit and dwell on it. … We don’t let each other get down. We always build each other up and that’s one thing that you’ve got to have; a tough mental game to work together. I think ours is one to beat.”

Trcka, who won the 2011 Class 1A individual state championship as a Cedar Rapids Xavier prep, is one of four Mount Mercy seniors in the seven-person rotation. Minnesota native Alicia Hartley leads the team with a 185 scoring average, while Brianna Payton of Ankeny and former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Nicole Petersen round out an experienced foursome that spearheaded the program’s long-awaited ascension to the ITC finals.

“I think we just we’ve wanted it for so long that we just were like, ‘OK, this is our year,’” said Petersen, who leads the Mustangs in both strike and spare percentages. “This is the last year we can even try to get to it. We wanted it so badly so we put everything that we could into it.”

Sophomore Abby Moeller, plus freshmen Savannah Gerou, Kayla Stammer and Rylee Blood — a 2016 3A state champion from Cedar Rapids Prairie who equals Petersen’s 37-percent strike mark — fortifies the Mount Mercy lineup.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without them,” Trcka said. “They’ve seen what the seniors have done and they’ve taken it upon themselves to work hard and get that experience so that way when we came to sectionals we were ready.”

Before the ITC finals, the Mustangs will compete at the NAIA Championship Invitational March 31-April 2 in Lexington, Ky.

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