The Definition Of Clutch: Cassie Leuthold

Cassie Leuthold might be the most talented NCAA student-athlete that you never heard of.

The South Dakota native is one of the best women’s bowlers in the country. As the junior led her Nebraska Cornhuskers to the 2009 NCAA National Championship Match against the Central Missouri Jennies, her efforts would likely be the difference between becoming a champion or a runner-up.

Unlike clutch players in sports like basketball or baseball, this young lady takes the last-second, game winning shot several times each day, as compared to other sports where athletes simply hope for the opportunity. A anchor bowler’s skills are as mental as they are physical when you consider they know long before a baker match begins that the key moment of the game and/or match will likely to come down to them. And like Mariano Rivera, Cassie Leuthold is the best closer in her sport.

Earlier tonight in Game One of the Championship Match, Leuthold threw a baby split in the 10th frame – giving Central Missouri an excellent opportunity to steal the first game away. If she missed both pins or hit just one, victory would be determined by the opposing anchor. If she knocked down both, the opposition’s chances for victory would become microscopic. As she’s done countless times before, she calmly peered down the lane with a stare Andy Pettite would be proud of before converting the difficult spare. Her work was not done, as she turned microscopic into impossible by rolling a strike to give the Huskers an unreachable 200 score. The Jennies would finish 15 points behind.

Pins – like at bats and free throws – matter. Rolling in the fifth frame of Game Two, Cassie’s booming strike was a clanging wake-up call to her teammates, who failed to mark any of their first four frames. The Jennies weren’t budging however, leaving Leuthold nothing to shoot for in the 10th frame. She drained a useless strike before giving way to a sub. Better to save the arrows in a 1-1 match.

Game Three’s margin remained close heading into the 5th frame, but yet another strike by Leuthold put the Huskers ahead. Her teammates would mark every frame leading up to the 10th, handing Cassie the task of knocking down nine pins to clinch the game. Instead of nine, she rolled her fifth strike of the match to put the Huskers back on top 2-1.

Game Four was similar to the previous one, as the Huskers were finally executing as a team. In the 5th frame, Cassie left four pins after her first shot, but dumped the bucket for her fourth spare of the match, giving the Huskers a slight lead. Her teammates again marked their way to the 10th frame, as Cassie easily knocked down the five pins needed to clinch a commanding 3-1 lead in the match.

The Huskers marked the first four frames of Game Five, as Cassie found herself facing her second bucket. She dropped it again to add to what was now an almost thirty pin lead. The lead held, and after Cassie dropped nine pins in the 10th frame, the Huskers work was done.

Cassie’s work in the championship match was outstanding. She calmy closed out two important early wins in the first and third games, negating the shaky start of her teammates. As they all settled in, she calmly filled the role dealt to her – a role where her 5th frame efforts became more important than the 10th. For her efforts, she helped Nebraska win the National Championship, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 NCAA Bowling Championships.

Too bad she doesn’t throw overhand.

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