NASHVILLE—The two-time defending NCAA Women's Bowling National Champions are sitting atop the bowling world again this season.
The National Tenpins Coaches Association just released its pre-season poll and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore garnered 14 first-place votes and 634 points to earn the No. 1 ranking. UMES was voted to that same spot in the final poll last season after winning their third and second consecutive NCAA title.
"It's an honor," said head coach Kristina Frahm. "We earned this same ranking at the end of 2011 and started last season on top and then fell and had to fight to get back there. What is important is how we finish, but it sure is nice to be recognized at the start of the year."
That fight should go a little easier than last year as the Hawks had to replace three All-America honorees. Coming into this year the National Champs only saw one player cross the graduation stage, Paula Vilas. While an All-American in her own right, having four starters returning is certainly better than two.
"Paula is a big loss for us," said Frahm. "She was not only a great bowler, but was such an emotional lift at the lead-off spot for our team. Luckily we have a couple of young ladies that can step in and hopefully we won't skip a beat."
The poll saw a wide variety in terms of teams getting votes. Six different teams garnered a first place vote.
"All the teams have been improving exponentially over the last few years and competition is getting tougher," said National Ten Pin Coaches Association President Becky Kregling, "This is the first time we've had six different teams receive first place votes, so it will be exciting to see how the season plays out."
Arkansas State University (589 points) earned the second spot and five first place votes. All the Red Wolves' starters from the dominating 2011-12 team, that finished no lower than fourth in a regular season will return.
Last year's NCAA Runner-Up, Fairleigh Dickinson University (553 points, 1 first), garnered the third spot in the poll. The Knights lost two regulars, but return NCAA Player of the year Danielle McEwan for her senior season as they look to repeat as Northeast Conference regular season champions.
Coming off a Semi-Final appearance in last year's Championship, Vanderbilt University (495 points, 1 first) takes the fourth spot in the poll. The Commodores look to replace two starters.
Rounding out the top five is the University of Nebraska (477 points, 1 first). The perennial power Cornhuskers return a solid group as they look to make their ninth trip to the NCAA Championship.
The University of Central Missouri (471 points, 1 first) is in the sixth spot to start the year. Defending NEC Tournament Champion Sacred Heart University (435 points) is in the seventh place and Sam Houston State University (323 points) from Huntsville, Texas sits in eighth. Valparaiso University (309 points) of Valparaiso, Ind., which enjoyed its finest season last year making it to the NCAA Championships enters the season in the ninth spot. The Lady Jacks from Stephen F. Austin University (285 points) retain their highest rank in program history round out the top 10 of the poll in 10th.
The MEAC was well represented in the poll as well. Norfolk State earned 240 points to finish 11th, Bethune-Cookman was 18th and Delaware State was 20th. Morgan State and North Carolina A&T State both received votes.
Large portions of this story appear compliments of the NTCA official release.