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GUEST POST: How, and why, Jacksonville State built a college bowling dynasty in year one

Teams don't usually win national titles in their first season...ever. Here's how Jacksonville State did it:

Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.

I’m pleased to introduce a very special guest writer today. We’re joined by Rodger Sherman, formerly of SBNation, The Ringer, and Road Rodge. He’s also recently launched his own newsletter, Read Rodge, which will highlight many of the fun and offbeat stories in college athletics. It’s very much a spiritual cousin of Extra Points.

Rodger made some calls to get the scoop on perhaps this year’s most unlikely collegiate national champion…the Jacksonville State women’s bowling team. A team that didn’t even exist last year.

How did they get so good, so fast? Why did Jacksonville State even start a women’s bowling team? What happens next? For answers, let me turn the time over to Rodger…

Jacksonville State’s historic national championship in bowling was born from a pair of Google searches. 

The first was by a coach looking for a school. Shannon O’Keefe is a championship-winning bowler and a championship-winning bowling coach at the same damn time, devoting about half the year to her own pro career and the other half as a college head coach, often helping develop her future pro competition. In 2022, O’Keefe won an NCAA championship as a coach, was named PWBA Bowler of the Year, and won the gold medal in singles bowling representing Team USA at the World Games. She sleeps in December, when her college bowlers are on winter break and the pro tour is out of season.  . 

But being a bowling coach—even arguably the best bowling coach in the world—does not have people knocking down the doors to hire you. “There's been a lot of rumors out there, ‘oh the O'Keefe's are just chasing the money,” O’Keefe says. Well, let's be honest, we are incidentally, bowling coaches, you know, we're not making millions of dollars.”

So when O’Keefe heard that a new Division I university was starting a bowling program, she had to look into it. “We did see an article floating around Facebook about Jacksonville State adding women's bowling,” O’Keefe recalls. “So we looked up to see where they even were.” (Remember: It’s not in Florida.)

The second Google search was by a school looking for a coach. Jacksonville State athletic director Greg Seitz had plenty of reasons for choosing bowling as his school’s next varsity sport, but was not an expert in the world of competitive bowling. Like all of us, he’d gone down to the lanes with friends and family to casually huck some balls at pins, but, for example, he didn’t know who Shannon O’Keefe was.

“I Googled her name and I was like, holy cow. I mean, this is, this is the real deal,” Seitz remembers. “So I asked our president—and we laugh about it today—but I said, so how good do we want to be in bowling?”

The answer: Really good

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