By now, it’s more than likely that if someone knows about SHSU, then he or she also knows about its top-notch bowling team. In every season of their less than ten-year history, these Bearkat bowlers have ranked in the top standings, even claiming the number one spot in the 2014 nationals.
But the titles don’t come easily. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that very few people know about, and even fewer have the opportunity to see. As is true with many sports, the coach is just as important to the success of a team as any of its members. The same holds for the bowling team with Head Coach Brad Hagen.
With two parents who both bowled earlier in life, it wasn’t a surprise that Hagen was introduced to the sport at a young age.
“It was something to do that was fun, active, relatively inexpensive, and being from upstate New York, where the weather is typically pretty bad during the winter months, it was something indoors that [my sister and I] could do,” Hagen said.
Yet, while he enjoyed the sport and went on to compete in high school and college, bowling was not his top priority in school. Hagen attended Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky as a management and marketing major.
“I think that, like a lot of coaches, despite the sport being a major part of my life for thirty some years, I didn’t go to college thinking, ‘I want to be a NCAA bowler,'” Hagen said. “I didn’t go to college to do what I’m doing now, but the aspects from those degrees apply daily to everything that I do, and as crazy as it is, I think they compliment the coaching profession very well.”
He didn’t fully realize how well the two mixed until one specific, ironic event that directed Hagen’s path toward Sam. Hagen used to bowl at a center in the Cincinnati area that held youth clinics once per month for kids ages 10 to 12. It was at one such clinic that he met the Alabama State and Stephen F. Austin coaches.
“[The SFA coach] was a new coach, and they had just added bowling the same time that we did but were implementing their program immediately, whereas Sam Houston wasn’t,” Hagen said. “And since her rival college was looking for a bowling coach, she acknowledged that I’d been in the industry for some time and thought I should apply.”
But the job didn’t come immediately. When Hagen applied in November 2008, the university informed him that it wasn’t ready to hire, but that he should keep in touch. He did, for about every two weeks until he got an interview in March 2009. He took the head coaching position on July 1 that same year.
“It was one of the few times in my life that I can say I was in the right place at the right time,” Hagen said. “I kind of ended up here by accident, or maybe on purpose – it depends on how you look at it.”
And the job has certainly yielded results. But again, while those results are fairly common knowledge around campus, not much is said about how those results are attained.
Hagen’s schedule changes daily, but his day-to-day duties may include answering emails and phone calls and recruiting for future seasons, but he spends much more of his time making arrangements for practices and tournaments, like preparing the ladies on the team physically and mentally and making sure they have the proper equipment.
“In the world of NCAA, we’re dubbed as an individual sport, but everything we do is team-oriented, and a typical weekend for us is a three-day competition,” Hagen said. “We don’t just wake up, bowl for two hours, then call it a day.”
With 32 dates of competition across eight different states – excluding post-season – the life of a bowler is grueling at times, and it takes endurance, but the turnout is worth it for those willing to put forth the effort.
“A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of what we do is six, seven, or eight hours a day,” Hagen explained. “And when we’re not competing, we’re training – we’re working out at 6:00 am three days a week with a program designed for us.” Hagen said.
Long hours are only one of the many challenges that Hagen and the team face. One of the biggest challenges they encounter is interactions, one being a bowler’s own level of maturity.
“Like any sport, you have to accept the environment that you’re in, whether it’s good or bad, and you have to be able to control your emotions and not let them dictate your actions,” Hagen said. “Growing up, I learned that the hard way, but this does make you a better person in the long run.”
Another common obstacle is the interactions between the ladies on the team and how their different personalities might meld or clash, especially when recruiting new athletes.
“Literally every eight months, the dynamics of the team change,” Hagen said. “Trying to get new and old to mesh every year is something that we need to stay consistent, relative, and competitive.”
But more than anything else, it’s what the girls learn from their experiences as athletes and members of a team that overshadows these challenges.
“It’s unfortunate [to see that society has become dependent], and I want them to leave here, not hiding behind a cell phone or computer, but being able to talk and understand interpersonal communication skills and problem resolutions,” Hagen said. “I hope they can leave here as smarter, tougher-skinned individuals who can apply these things to real-world situations, or things that may directly influence them in the future.”
The hard work pays off in the long run: working with a team, competing at a high level, and earning a spot at the top in national rankings.
“I appreciate the support and people being interested in us, and I know that comes with success, but still, it’s nice to have people following us,” Hagen said. “And that’s one of the great things about this school, is that the people at the top have really embraced our success – Dr. Hoyt and Mr. Williams and Chris Thompson and the people involved directly with our day-to-day operations. It’s one of the reasons it’s nice to be around here.”