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Earnest named NCAA 'National Player of the Year'

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By Seth Whitehead

Each and every time Vanderbilt bowling coach John Williamson calls Josie Earnest, he says the Vandalia native is doing one of three things.

Getting ready to practice. Practicing. Or finishing up a practice.

"She's a relentless worker," Williamson said. "She's always trying to do something a little bit better."

And thanks in large part to that relentless work ethic, Williamson had the pleasure of dialing up the MVP of his 2007 national championship team last Thursday with news no Vanderbilt coach before him has had the pleasure of delivering.

Earnest was recently voted the Division I "Player of the Year" by the National Ten Pin Coaches Association - an honor that is believed to be the first-ever of its kind bestowed upon a female athlete in the school's storied history.

Earnest admits becoming the first Commodore to win such an award was on her to-do list. But she never figured she'd get the chance to receive the honor this early in her career, making Williamson's call as surprising as it was exhilarating.

"I felt I bowled well enough," Earnest said. "But as a sophomore, I never believed it would actually happen."

Such awards do indeed go to upperclassmen more often than not. But Earnest's credentials were simply too impressive to ignore.

The 2006 VCHS grad led the Commodores to the NCAA semifinals with by averaging a 205 over 67 games, a seven-pin improvement from a freshman campaign in which she missed being named national rookie of the year by a single vote and was a second-team All-American.

The improvement didn't surprise Williamson one iota, and he says it was no accident.

"I think a little bit of her improvement goes to just being a year older and knowing the college scene," Williamson said. "But it's more a testament to her work ethic. She strives to be the best. And the coaches felt that she was."

Earnest's work ethic is matched by her talent. But the two didn't always go hand-in-hand.

Though bowling has been a major part of Earnest's life ever since her parents, Larry and Lisa, bought the Vandalia Bowling Center when she was 3 years old, she admits she wasn't particularly enamored with the sport at an early age.

"I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it a lot," Earnest said.

Still, Earnest excelled. To such a degree that she finished fourth at a state tournament at the age of 12, despite competing against bowlers nearly twice her age.

Earnest could have viewed the accomplishment as a crowning achievement. Instead, she saw it as a wakeup call.

"It was a big accomplishment, but I knew I didn't put in time that needed to," Earnest said. "That really opened my eyes."

Ever since then, Earnest has been obsessed with getting better.

"Now it's nothing for me to put in 20 games a day," Earnest said. "And I never get burned out. A lot of people ask if I get burned out. It just never happens."

The most prevalent byproduct of Earnest's practice regimen has been her trademark consistency.

She scored a 200 or better in 81 percent of her games during the 2007-08 season, in addition to placing among the top five in tournaments four times.

"It's definitely one of the things I work on when I practice," said Earnest of her consistency. "I never want to be too high or too low.

"In (college) bowling, it's a very long process. You have 15 games, essentially. If you keep yourself steady, you'll have an opportunity to win."

And all that practice has also resulted in one of the smoothest and effortless deliveries imaginable.

"The elite players, when they throw, they have perfect mechanics," Williamson said. "And she's as fundamentally sound as she can be. She repeats shots left and right all day.

"Coaching her is unique, because she does almost all the work for you and makes you look good."

Earnest also credits her success this past season to a workout routine that is similar to that of Vanderbilt's women's basketball team.

In addition to weight lifting and cardio work, the team started doing yoga last year.

"Honestly, it's helped tremendously," said Earnest of the latter. "A couple girls had aches and joint pains, but when we started doing yoga, they started going away."

The pain from falling short of a second consecutive national title has not gone away, however. And making amends for allowing a 3-1 lead slip away against Maryland-East Shore in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament is just one factor Williamson believes will keep Earnest hungry, despite winning the biggest team and individual honors possible during her first two years of college.

"She is never quite satisfied with what she's done," Williamson said. "She's always reaching for one better mark, one better game, one better tournament.

"There's no indication that will stop because she's gotten this award and a national championship."

Earnest agrees with her coach, saying she'd trade her national player of the year award for another national title in a heartbeat.

"We want to go out and win two more national titles," Earnest said. "We came up a little short (last year). We never like to lose. We're going to do everything in our power to win another national championship."

Fortunately, the Commodores appear uniquely poised to do just that. Vanderbilt returns its top 10 bowlers next year and will welcome in the No. 1 recruit in the country, Brittany Hamilton.

But in the meantime, Williamson is going to take time to enjoy his top players' tremendous individual achievement.

"I'm extremely proud," Williamson said. "I recruited her because I felt she could do this. She's been an exceptional player and person as long as I've known her. That's what intrigued me about her."

Earnest still can't seem to believe she's been named Division I's top player.

"I don't think it'll sink in until I get back to school," Earnest said. "Coming from a small town, you never expect big things."

And she isn't about to rest on her laurels.

Earnest is set to represent her country as part of Team USA at the World Youth Championships next month. The prestigious international tournament will be held in Orlando, Fla., July 18-25.