Spoiler alert: Maryland Eastern Shores defeated Pikeville April 20 in the finals at the xbowling Intercollegiate Team Championships, which will be aired May 17 on the CBS Sports Network.
What will not likely be evident in the broadcast is the real story behind Morris native and Pikeville junior Ashley Copley’s shortened finals performance.
Copley was bowling leadoff, as she typically does, for the Bears. They had already lost the first game, and in the finals’ truncated format, in which only two total games are bowled by each of the two teams — two frames by each bowler — they desperately needed to win the second. So Copley went to Pikeville head coach Ron Damron and asked to be replaced in the lineup.
“I was throwing good shots, but the reaction wasn’t what I wanted,” Copley said. “We have a freshman, Katelyn Simpson, with a shot that would have worked perfectly for the conditions. I said, ‘Ron, you gotta put her in.’ It made no sense for me to try to find a line when my teammate would have one.
“It’s a really quick format. You only bowl two games, and we had already lost one at that point. I thought, ‘We don’t have time for me to adjust.’ I knew she had a line. And she was clutch. She came in and threw two strikes and it was exactly what we needed.”
Copley had thrown just two frames in the finals when she asked to be replaced.
“Leading off the first match, she left the 4-7 and made the spare, and then in the sixth frame, she leaves the 4-7-9, I think it was,” Damron said. “It wasn’t a bad ball. She left it a little high.
“We had a young lady (Simpson) who was throwing really good in practice. Even so, I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in (Copley). She deserved to be in there. But she came to me and said, ‘Coach, I don’t have a great look. Katelyn is killing it. You need to put her in there.’ I said, ‘Ashley, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in you,’ but she said, ‘She’s got a better ball. She’ll do fine. Put her in there.’”
Pikeville, which had lost the first game 209-180, led the second 154-125 after eight frames before Maryland Eastern Shores roared back to win 173-171. Seeded sixth in the women’s division, Pikeville had won its first four matches to make the finals.
“It hurts, but it’s incredible,” Copley said of the finals loss. “We bowled against the most competitive women’s team in the country. We showed we can compete with the best. We put everything out there, and while the pins didn’t fall our way, I’m proud of where we have come as a team. It took the whole team to get there.”
Early in the year, Copley’s ability to even be a part of the Bears’ lineup during late-season tournaments seemed to be in question. She got off to what she calls a “really bad” start to the season, which began in October.
“I knew what my goal was — to make the top eight on our team and go on to singles nationals and team nationals with these girls. I put in a lot of time. I would read articles on the mental game and the spare game. When we didn’t have scheduled practice, I would go practice on my own.”
Copley’s season went from on extreme to the other in December when she was tier one individual champion at the Roto Grip Keystone Quaker Classic in Allentown, Pa. Copley averaged 220.6 pins over five games, earning her first collegiate title and her first collegiate All-Tournament selection.
“It was amazing,” Copley said. “It was my first first-tier win. I had been close to the top five before. That was the highest I have averaged in three years.”
According to collegebowling.com, Copley’s average of 189.500 pins per game ranked 50th in the nation this season among qualifying women. It was a continuation of a linear career progression; Copley averaged 173.702 pins as a freshman and 184.975 as a sophomore, per the website.
This season, Copley was second-team All-Conference in the Mid-South. She helped Pikeville finish fourth at the NAIA Invitational. In addition, she repeated as an academic All-American.
“I think everything I have learned will help me with the younger girls. I feel like I can be more of a team leader,” Copley said of her outlook for her senior season. “I have been in their shoes and I know the ropes, and I can help with what they’re struggling with.”