One team is ranked third in the nation.
The other is looking to add to a string of late-season success.
When the St. Ambrose bowling teams begin competing Thursday at the United States Bowling Congress Intercollegiate Team Championships in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Bees will be looking to build on success-filled seasons against challenging competition.
The St. Ambrose women’s team, led by NAIA all-Americans Natalie Koprowitz and Kayla Crawford, has finished in the top five in the 12 tournaments it has competed in this season.
That includes wins in the Boilermaker Classic at Purdue and at the 32-team Midwest Collegiate Classic along with a fourth-place effort last month at the NAIA national invitational.
The men’s team has gained late-season momentum, qualifying for the three-day Intercollegiate Team Championships with a fourth-place finish in its sectional prior to finishing second at the NAIA tournament.
“We’ve always put together the most challenging schedule we can because we believe it prepares us for this time of the season,’’ St. Ambrose coach Eric Littig said. “Both of our teams are young this year, so I feel like we’re only going to get better.’’
This week's competition features NCAA Division I, II and III programs as well as NAIA teams. The St. Ambrose women are part of the field for the second time in three years while the men’s team is making its first appearance since 2013.
This is the first time both the St. Ambrose men and women have qualified for the 16-team national field in the same year in the nine-year history of the program.
“It’s a big plus for us to have three bowlers from the women’s team who were there two years ago,’’ said Craig Crawford, who coaches the women’s team. “The experience can make a difference.’’
Koprowitz, a freshman from Girard, Illinois, who earned first-team NAIA all-American honors, welcomes the challenge presented by the field at the Intercollegiate meet.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for our team,’’ Koprowitz said. “We’ve done a lot of good things together and this is another chance to build on that.’’
A two-time all-American from United Township, Kayla Crawford sees the success St. Ambrose has had as a byproduct of team chemistry which developed early in the season.
“This team came together really quickly and the chemistry is as good as any team I’ve been a part of,’’ the junior said. “We work together really well and that has given us a chance to do a lot of big things this season.’’
Crawford is among the Bees who competed at the Intercollegiate meet two years ago and she expects that experience to be a difference maker.
“We’ll see some of the best competition we’ve seen all year, but going through it before, it does matter,’’ Crawford said. “We know what this tournament is like and we will be ready to go out there and deal with it.’’
With just one senior in the lineup, St. Ambrose has thrived in part by buying into an underdog mentality.
The Bees’ women have been rated among the nation’s top teams throughout much of the season, but the team still approaches competition like it has something to prove.
That notion won’t change now.
“We’ll go into nationals seeing ourselves as the 16th seed,’’ said Michaela Kelly, a junior from Bettendorf. “It’s been that way all year and that’s the mindset that we have. We feel like we have to show up ready to prove ourselves all over again.’’
The St. Ambrose men, who have no seniors in the lineup, are looking to prove a point as well at the Intercollegiate Team Championships.
“I think we see this as the beginning of something, looking into the future with all we have coming back,’’ said Alex Denton, a junior from Waverly, Iowa. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us, a chance to do some good things.’’
Brenden Sramek, a junior from Bellevue, Nebraska, said the Bees seem to be peaking at the right time after working through a series of in-season lineup changes.
He said the chemistry of the group has been strong throughout the year and the success at the sectionals as well as at the NAIA national invite have told the Bees they are on the right track.
“It took us some time to figure out each other’s games and put it all together, but once that happened, we’ve been able to do some good things,’’ Sramek said. “We’ve always bowled against tough competition here and that has helped us reach the potential I think we knew we could reach.’’
Nate Stubler, a freshman from LaSalle-Peru who was named to the five-player all-tournament team at the NAIA Invitational, said the Bees have benefited from an approach that keeps the sport fun.
“Whether it’s in our practices three or four times a week or in a tournament, we’ve been able to find just the right mood to compete and keep it fun,’’ Stubler said. “We’re here for each other and that has led us to where we want to be in the national tournament.’’
Sramek expects St. Ambrose to benefit as it tries to advance in this week’s 16-team tournament from the competition it has faced this season.
“We’ve bowled a tough schedule and it did what it is supposed to do,’’ he said. “It has prepared us for the postseason. We’re anxious to see what we can do.’’