Arkansas State rolls into Las Vegas for a Final Four showdown with Vanderbilt, Nebraska and McKendree
“It’s going to be very humbling competing against the best teams in the country,” said A-State’s Emma Stull, a junior from Raleigh, N.C. Of course, Stull is being humble herself, as she bowls for one of the best programs in the United States. In fact, the top four RPI finishers for the year – McKendree, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State and Nebraska – are the Final Four left standing in this year’s NCAA National Bowling Tournament.
While there are no Cinderella’s left in the tournament, the Red Wolves are arguably the program with the most motivation – and perhaps the program best fit for the glass bowling shoe. Of the four teams headed to Las Vegas for the 2023 NCAA Bowling Final Four, only Arkansas State has failed to bring home the hardware, having finished runner up in 2021 and 2008. McKendree is the nation’s defending champion. Nebraska is a six time national champion, and Vanderbilt has won it all twice. That leaves the Red Wolves with a serious case of unfinished business.
Head coach Justin Kostick acknowledges that this may very well be the strongest Final Four field he’s faced. “Yeah, it’s probably the toughest. It’s all the number-one seeds.”
Not that’s it’s ever been easy. Since becoming an official NCAA D1 women’s sport in 2004, 37 universities offer college Bowling as varsity sport in 10 Conferences. Roughly 50,000 high school bowlers compete for scholarships each year. If you want to roll with the Big Girls, you better be averaging at least 165 pins.
The pressure is on. The Red Wolves have made the NCAA Bowling Tournament fifteen times now. Will 2023 be the year that Arkansas State finally rolls escrow and brings the Natty home to Jonesboro? This could very well be the team to do it. Emma Stull, Brooklyn Buchanan and Faith Welch have felt the blazing heat of championship fire, having been with the program during that final round loss to Nebraska in 2021. The team has been hardened in the crucible of the highest competition, battling through season bereft with challenges.
“There’s been times we’ve been down we’re down three to one, and we come back to win three straight. This team does a real good job of never giving up,” said Brooklyn Buchanan, the sophomore from Snohomish, Washington. “This team has more fight than teams of the past.”
Pressure games have not been in short supply this season, with the Red Wolves locked in a tight 2-1 tourney match with Sam Houston to win the Southland earlier this year, then a very tight match with NC A&T to advance to the Final Four.
“It went four out of seven,” said Kostick, recalling the fight with NC A&T. “Brooklyn (Buchanan) had to bowl two strikes in the 10th to lock them out, and she got them. Playing into those kind of pressure elements play a key factor going into the championship.”
Kostick knows how much a title would mean to Jonesboro. “It would be the first division one national title ever for Arkansas State,” he said, adding that it would certainly bring more recognition for his athletes.
Second place just isn’t going to cut it.