History in the Making:

YSU Bowling Prepares as Inaugural Season Approaches

By Dan Hiner

Youngstown State University will add one more sport to the athletic department record books when the YSU bowling team starts its season on Oct. 15.

YSU announced the addition of the women’s bowling program in March 2015.

The bowling team will feature 11 players — eight freshmen, two sophomores and one junior.

Head coach Chelsea Gilliam was officially announced as the first coach of the program on Sept. 1, 2015. Gilliam has tried to get the program up and running as quickly as possible. The Penguins’ first tournament will be the Bud Whitman Memorial in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“Our first official practice is going to be Oct. 3, and from there we have 11 days until the first tournament — until we leave,” Gilliam said. “[I’m] making sure that I have everything ready so that our practices can be efficient so when we leave we can compete the best we can.”

Gilliam said the biggest challenge associated with coaching a team with eight freshmen will be trying to keep everyone’s composure once competition begins. She said the players need to learn to compete against players that “have competed collegiately for three, four or five years.”

YSU was considering adding a bowling team for the past several years, but the program still had to start from the ground up. Gilliam said the most difficult part of building a new program is dealing with the fact that there are limited resources available, if any at all.

“I spent all of last year recruiting girls and trying to sell them on the fact that we will be successful right away,” Gilliam said. “I have to make them believe that because we have history like every other program. They [recruits] can look and see they’ve been successful in the past, and I know what I’m getting into. They [YSU’s players] don’t know what they’re getting into, and we’re all gonna learn together, but the fact these 11 girls are here is amazing, and I think I got a great group.”

For players like freshman Nikki Mendez, being one of the first recruits in YSU history provided an opportunity to compete immediately. Mendez said one of the attractions to the new program was the chance to “be the first for everything.”

Freshman Rachel Darrow echoed Mendez’s statements about being able to make history at YSU. She said the team feels as if the athletic department “has our backs” and understands building the team is going to be a process despite high expectations.

Freshman Emily Dietz said YSU finally gives her a chance to compete against a higher level of competition, and she can’t wait to see how she compares to bowlers from schools throughout the year.

“My conference in high school, we didn’t have much competition to go against, so it wasn’t as intense, serious and competitive. We didn’t get to push ourselves as much as we should have or could have,” Dietz said. “So now we hear that we are going against some of the top schools. My best friend goes to Arkansas State [University]; they’re a high-ranked school, and they’re going to be at four of our tournaments.

“That’s exciting to see how close you come to them, and you push yourself to be as good as them, if not better. You never know.”

Gilliam wants to set realistic goals for the team this season. Most of the schools that sponsor a collegiate women’s bowling team do so independently and aren’t affiliated with their conferences. Gilliam said YSU’s goal is to finish in the top half of the nation, but the goal is to be one of the top eight schools and advance to the national tournament.

“Obviously, our goal is to be in the top eight and go to nationals in April, but we are a very young team,” Gilliam said. “So realistically, I think the top half will be a great starting point for us. Hopefully we have fun, everybody learns something and we’re competitive from day one so team can come in and say ‘hey they’re a brand new program, but they mean business and we need to take them seriously.’”