Small College Sports

Bowling is an important part of Mount Mercy's athletics menu

Ogden column: Sports landscape has changed a area college - and high schools

Mount Mercy junior Cassidy Courey is one of the top collegiate bowlers in the country, recently earning a spot on the Ju
Mount Mercy junior Cassidy Courey is one of the top collegiate bowlers in the country, recently earning a spot on the Junior USA team. (Mount Mercy)
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What is your definition of a sport?

Is auto racing a sport? How about eSports? “Sport” is part of the name.

Is bowling a sport?

There are those who look at bowling — and activities like trap shooting and competitive dance or cheer — as more of a recreation than sport.

But times are changing in the world of high school and, in particular, collegiate sports. Look around at the sports now offered at many colleges, even those in Eastern Iowa.

Coe has a clay target team, as well as a women’s triathlon team. Cornell offers lacrosse for men and women. Upper Iowa has “shotgun sports” and the aforementioned eSports.

The days of offering only football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, track and field, baseball and softball are gone. If you want to attract students, a different breed of students — a major priority for most colleges and university these days — you have to offer something different.

But does that make it a sport?

Mount Mercy University doesn’t offer football — yet? — but does have a couple of non-traditional sports. It has men’s volleyball and competitive dance and competitive cheer.

It also has men’s and women’s bowling. The women, by the way, are ranked No. 1 in the country by the National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association and the International Media Bowling Association.

Bowling is more than a recreation at Mount Mercy.

“It’s a fringe sport, but not so at Mount Mercy,” said Andy Diercks, in his sixth season as the Mustangs’ head coach.

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Diercks knows bowling. He was appointed to the Team USA Bowling coaching staff in 2017, one of seven assistants who work with athletes at training camps. He also is a United States Bowling Congress (USBC) “Silver Coach” and “Gold Candidate.”

“It’s way more in-depth that most people realize,” he said. “It’s more complex than people think it is.”

Getting a program to the No. 1 ranking in the country in any sport isn’t easy. The Mustang women have 24 bowlers on their roster, many who played in high school in this area.

Diercks, who coached Linn-Mar to three Mississippi Valley Conference titles earlier this decade, said it takes solid fundamentals — like consistent approaches, a straight “swing line” and “making sure they have a solid fit” with their equipment.

Like many sports, there are good days and bad days in bowling. A program ascends to the top by being consistent. High scores on a regular basis, of course, are key, but it’s more about “not really having any major lows,” Diercks said.

Of course, it takes good athletes, too. Mount Mercy has plenty of those, including one who recently earned a spot on Junior Team USA for 2020.

Diercks said junior Cassidy Courey now can bowl at the national training center and learn from some of the best coaches in the country. She also is eligible for berths on United States teams competing abroad.

“It makes me feel a lot of my work over the past five years is worth it,” said Courey, who is from Brooklyn Center, Minn. “It’s cool to be part of an elite group of athletes who could represent the United States.”

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Like Diercks, Courey is excited to see what this Mount Mercy team can accomplish over the next few months. Being ranked No. 1 in January is “exciting,” but it will mean little if goals aren’t met in April.

“It’s all about March and April,” Diercks said.

The sectionals for the USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships are March 13-14-15. The Mustangs are assured a regional berth.

“It’s a 64-game marathon,” Diercks said. “It’s very challenging. ... It’s a stressful weekend but it’s also very rewarding.”

The top four at sectionals move on to the ITC nationals in Grand Rapids, Mich. That six-day tournament begins April 13.

There’s no reason to celebrate now.

“You don’t want to get too comfortable,” Courey said.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Diercks said.

Strong fundamentals. Consistent performance. Grueling multiple-day competitions. Stressful situations.

Sounds like a sport to me.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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