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Women's Bowling - Wed, Mar. 8, 2017

Last year, a young St. Ambrose women's bowling team with one senior, two juniors and five underclassmen, qualified for the 16-team National Team Championships for the first time since the program's inaugural 2009-10 season.

The Bees are hoping a similar script plays out this year.

The team learned late last month they, along with the men, qualified for a sectional qualifier in Dallas, Texas, March 10-12. A top-four finish there would mean a return trip to Nationals.

This year's team, led by senior Katie Maher and junior Hayley Ryan, features six underclassmen, including four sophomores - Kayla Crawford, Michaela Kelly, Miranda Rodriguez and Kayla Ewing - who competed as freshmen last year. 

Maher, the individual women's champion at the Warhawk Open, has earned a pair of all-tournament awards as part of her four top-10 finishes this year. She leads the team with a 199.64 average. Crawford has four top-five finishes and five top-10s while averaging a 199.37. The other four returners each average better than a 175.

The Bees have also received big contributions from the two freshmen who round out the varsity team. Brittany Breedlove and Kaitlyn Keith have stepped right in to help. Keith has a second- and sixth-place showing and a 192.16 average and Breedlove sports a 183.23 average.

"Things have really just carried over from last year," Crawford said. "I knew Brittany and Kaitlyn's experience level and how they'd feel this year because I was part of a group that went through it all last year. And these two have fit right in."

More importantly, with the individual success has come team success. 

SAU won the Five Seasons Classic and Leatherneck Classic in back-to-back events in late October and early November. The Bees have three other runner-up efforts and are currently ranked No. 8 in CollegeBowling.com's online team ranking system. This can be traced to the team's camaraderie.

"Bowling is an individualized sport but also very team based, especially baker games," Crawford said. "Everyone has experience and we know what to expect from each other. Some are more confident on certain conditions and we work around that. If someone's not sure, they ask and we talk through it. We've really come together as a team."

Looking to return to Nationals and improve on last year's 12th-place finish, the Bees will be tested at what looks to be a very competitive Dallas Sectional, featuring Wichita State, the top-ranked team in the CollegeBowling.com poll. No. 14 Newman, No. 15 Lindenwood-Belleville, No. 18 Midland and No. 21 Baker were also sent to Dallas and could stand in SAU's way to a return trip.

"It was amazing to go last year and we're hoping to go back again this year," Crawford said. "We're just going to keep bowling for the team and hope for the best."