Gulbrandson helps Shockers to second place at nationals; taking game to EuropeFormer Spartan kept team alive with triple in 10th frame of championship match
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Staring down the lane with just one frame left to play, Erik Gulbrandson needed perfection to keep the Wichita State University bowling team in contention — three strikes in three tries. Just one pin left standing would spell the end of the season.
Gulbrandson hadn’t been at full capacity for much of the year, and he’d struggled to hit the pocket at times during the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Intercollegiate Team Championships, but Wichita State head coach Gordon Vadakin had confidence in his senior anchor.
“It was risky, but by my eye, what I saw was a guy who had the best look,” Vadakin said.
Gulbrandson delivered, punching out three consecutive strikes to tie the score and force a third game in the championship match.
“Thankfully I was peaking at the right time,” Gulbrandson said.
The Shockers went on to lose the final game for a second-place finish, but Gulbrandson was noted for his gutsy play and was named the most valuable player of the men’s USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships.
The USBC Intercollegiate Team Championships were held April 19-21 at Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Neb.
“Being MVP was awesome, but I would really have liked to win another team championship,” said Gulbrandson, a 2007 graduate of Superior High School. The Shockers claimed two team titles while Gulbrandson was at Wichita State, one in 2008 and another in 2010.
Gulbrandson, who helped the Superior bowling team to a Minnesota state title in 2006, began his bowling career with the Shockers as a walk-on. He credits Superior coach Carl Mencel and Todd Savoy for helping him develop his bowling skills while in Superior and says the Junior program in Superior is one of the best in the state.
“We knew very little about Erik Gulbrandson when he walked in the door, and we were very lucky to attract him,” Vadakin said. “We immediately figured out this guy was an incredible player.”
In his senior year at Wichita State University, Erik Gulbrandson struggled with his bowling game like never before. The Superior native spent a few months away from bowling to recover from hernia surgery, and when he returned his form was all wrong.
“When I came back, a lot of things were funky,” Gulbrandson said. “I’ve never struggled that much trying to figure out my bowling.”
Nothing seemed to go well for Gulbrandson. First, complications from his surgery — including a staph infection — kept him away from the lanes longer than he’d anticipated. Then, when he finally rejoined his teammates, Gulbrandson had to be mindful of his healing injury.
“It was a struggle,” Vadakin said. “It was a huge distraction for him. With hernias you can’t pick heavy things up, and bowling balls are kind of heavy.” The challenges of the season showed in Gulbrandson’s bowling average.
In the 2010-11 regular season, Gulbrandson bowled 52 games with a 209.8 average, which ranked second on the men’s team. He was named NCBCA Second Team All-American and was also honorable mention for BWAA Collegiate Bowler of the Year.
This season, Gulbrandson bowled in just 19 games and averaged a 189.6 score as he worked to bounce back from his surgery.
For the first few weeks back on the lanes, Gulbrandson said his form was terrible. His approach and arm swing were off from what they had been, and he didn’t feel comfortable in his game.
“His bowling game was in need of surgery itself,” Vadakin said.
Determination to make the most of his senior season pushed Gulbrandson on, though, and by the time of the USBC tournament he had nearly regained his old form.
In the team championships, Gulbrandson anchored the team in the Baker style format, bowling the fifth and 10th frames.
Wichita State won matches against Vincennes University, St. Ambrose and Robert Morris University to advance through the winner’s bracket to the finals.
In the finals, Wichita State faced off against Webber International University for the men’s team title.
The Shockers struggled in the first game, falling 170-167. The second game came down to Gulbrandson final-frame heroics, which forced a 203-203 tie and pushed the contest to a third game. Webber prevailed 194-184 in the final game to claim the match and the collegiate title.
“That punch out — three in a row — was incredibly exciting,” Vadakin said.
The men’s championship game will air at 9 p.m. May 25 on the CBS Sports Network.
Up next for Gulbrandson is a short stint in the European Bowling Tour. He and a few other Shockers players will be heading to Europe in July for a week of games in San Marino, Italy and another in Barcelona, Spain.
From there, Gulbrandson has his eye on the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA). He hopes to bowl in a few PBA tournaments following college.
“I might as well do it now when I’m young,” Gulbrandson said. “I don’t want to have any regrets.”