Shannon and Bryan O’Keefe first thought about the possibility of winning a national championship at McKendree University not long after they were hired — Shannon to coach the women’s bowling team and her husband to serve as director of bowling.
Patience was not part of their philosophy when they started recruiting the country’s top female bowlers from both coasts and places in between.
“We’ve been around college bowling quite a while,” Shannon O’Keefe said. “When the chance came to take over a program and build it the way we wanted, we had that in mind with the girls we were going after. Our phone calls were to girls who could get us there and quickly.”
McKendree, in its third year guided by the O’Keefes, won its first NCAA national championship in any sport last weekend by sweeping Nebraska in the finals. In bowling, all schools are lumped into one division, and the Bearcats became the first team from a Division II school to win a national bowling title. Nebraska had won five championships since 2004.
The team remained in Baton Rouge, La., to compete in the USBA intercollegiate championships, which started Thursday. The Bearcats finished the qualifying round seeded No. 4 and will continue play in the 16-team field Friday.
In between events, the Bearcats had a celebration that consisted of a cookout the night after the championship, s’mores at a campground where the family of one player was staying, and then homework.
Maybe they have something bigger in the works for 2018, when the team returns every player and the national championships will be held in St. Louis.
The O’Keefe’s arrived in Lebanon, Ill., with significant bowling pedigrees that helped push the program onto the map from the start. Shannon is a top female professional bowler and Bryan was recently named the coach for the U.S. junior team.
“Our names are very recognizeable in bowling, and that’s the initial draw,” Shannon O’Keefe said. “Because McKendree is a smaller institution, our girls have a unique opportunity for what may be better for them with small class sizes and they don’t have to jeopardize their level of play in doing so.”
McKendree played all of its matches in tournaments, competing against a range that included small colleges such as Adelphi, Elmhurst and Wisconsin-Whitewater and teams from power conferences like Vanderbilt and Nebraska. The Bearcats finished 87-24.
Breanna Clemmer was named the MVP of the tournament and Taylor Bailey made the all-tournament team. Both are freshmen and two more strong recruits have been added for next season.
“The best kids rise to the top at national tournaments but we’re looking for things they do physically,” Shannon O’Keefe said. “Do they have good pieces to their game that we can expand upon and make even better? We teach…