RMU strives to be national champs

By Lindsey Woods

“Talent wins games, teamwork wins championships,” or at least, according to the T-shirts members of the Robert Morris University bowling team wear when they practice. But it’s not just a saying to Coach Dale Lehman. It’s a philosophy he hopes will bring the Eagles a national title.

The RMU men’s bowling team, which is No. 1 in the nation, and the women’s team, currently ranked No. 4, are preparing to compete for the national collegiate bowling title April 19–21.

“As far as rankings, we’re absolutely delighted with where the guys are,” Lehman said. “Their first time being Number 1 was last year for a short period, but this year they’ve been Number 1 for the past two or two-and-a-half months solid. They’re definitely the favorite going into nationals.”

Both teams have consistently ranked in the top four since the 2009 season, but neither have ever clinched a national title.

Although the ultimate goal is a championship, Lehman is still satisfied with the program’s and teams’ progress, especially considering the men’s team is only in its fifth season.

“I never thought it my wildest dreams that we would be this good this quickly, or this big this quickly,” he said.

For RMU, a young program means young players. According to Jacob Kent, a member of the team, the men’s team lost all of its starting bowlers last year. The team has a lot of new players this season, meaning lots of talent, but not a lot of experience.

“I know a lot of college bowling relies on experience, and going into this year, I was kind of sketchy about whether the younger guys were going to perform,” Kent said. “It was nice watching them bowl really well. It was nice having a team that I didn’t think was going to be great, and I have a feeling that we’re going to be really great and win the National Championship this year.”

Elisa Rivera, the women’s team’s only senior, said the same is true of the women, but they are taking a little longer to adjust to losing so many seniors last season.

“We have a lot of freshman that have so much talent, they just need the experience,” Rivera said. “We’re slowly getting it.”

Age and inexperience didn’t stop both teams from winning. The men have won eight competitions this year, and the women have won five first-place titles and also placed in at least the top 10 in each match thus far.

Now, with nationals on the horizon, the Eagles are increasing their practice times from four times per week to seven or eight. Lehman also had his top players work with a sports psychologist for a weekend to improve on their mental game.

“I think it really helps prepare us to be strong mentally because when it gets to the national championship, it becomes not just a physical grind but a mental grind as well,” Lehman said.

RMU is quickly becoming a big name in the collegiate bowling community for its academics, too. For six years in a row, the Eagles have led the country in most academic all-Americans on a team. This year, 23 of approximately 70 bowlers made the all-American list.

“I’m very proud of [our academic achievements] because, like I say, you come here to get a degree and not to bowl,” Lehman said.

A degree may be just a backup plan for Kent. He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional bowler after he graduates.

“If it doesn’t work out, then I have my degree to fall back on, and I’ll go get a real job,” Kent said.

The team is currently focused on winning its first national title. Lehman is hoping that his team-over-self philosophy will get them there.

“I tell my bowlers that when you’re on the lanes, you have to be best friends, brother and sister,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that team chemistry makes you win or lose. We’re hoping that’s going to bring us a national title.”