Chelsea Gilliam has been the leader of the Youngstown State women's bowling program since its infancy, and she has the Penguins set up to compete among the nation's elite teams after just two seasons of competition.
Gilliam officially became a Penguin on Sept. 1, 2015, and spent the 2015-16 academic year recruiting the first team in school history, securing Holiday Bowl as YSU's home facility and preparing a schedule. The 2016-17 season was Youngstown State's first as an intercollegiate sport, and Gilliam immediately had the Penguins among the top 25 teams in the country.
With a roster of eight freshmen and sophomores, the Penguins finished their inaugural season ranked 25th in the final National Tenpin Coaches Association Poll. The Penguins earned 38 points in the final poll to stay in the top 25 for each of the final four releases. Youngstown State made its top 25 debut at No. 24 in February, and it peaked at No. 23 at the beginning of March. YSU was the only first-year program to be ranked in the final top 25. Statistically, YSU ranked 21st in the country across all divisions in team scoring average, and its strength of schedule ranked 16th.
Gilliam and the Penguins earned 18 wins over teams that were ranked in the final National Tenpin Coaches Association Top 25 Poll during the 2016-17 campaign. The Penguins defeated three teams in the top 10 – No. 5 Sam Houston State on Oct. 29, No. 7 Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 11 and No. 9 Sacred Heart on Jan. 21. Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin both advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Penguins had 20 wins against teams that were ranked at the time of competition.
For her efforts and the team's success in its first season of competition, Gilliam was one of 10 coaches to be nominated for the NTCA Division I Coach of the Year award.
In the Penguins’ second season of competition, the team made more strides toward becoming contenders on the national stage. YSU began the season ranked 24th in the NTCA Preseason Top 25, and it received votes in every poll throughout the season. YSU improved its winning percentage and won four more matches than it did in year one. The Penguins made a sizeable step forward in bracket play as they went 9-9, and improvement from 6-13 in 2016-17.
YSU began the season with a pair of third-place finishes at the Bud Whitman Memorial for the highest team finishes in the program’s young history. The Penguins also closed the year strong by beating a pair of top-10 opponents at the Columbia 300 Music City Classic. YSU totaled 1,006 pins to beat No. 7 Delaware State in team play, and the Penguins beat No. 8 UMES 4-1 to start bracket play. For the year, YSU earned 12 wins over teams ranked in the top 25.
Gilliam came to Youngstown after serving as the head coach of the men's and women's bowling programs at Union College in Kentucky for three years. In 2015, Gilliam led the Bulldogs' men's team to their second straight runner-up finish at the Mid-South Conference Tournament. The highlight of Gilliam's tenure as the head coach of the women's program was when she was selected the MSC's Women's Co-Head Coach of the Year in 2014.
Gilliam was hired as an assistant coach at Union in the summer of 2012, and she became the interim head coach of the NAIA program just a few months later in September. She was elevated to the full-time position the following May.
Gilliam was a four-year member of the University of Pikeville (Ky.) bowling team, and she was a senior on the 2012 NAIA national championship team. She twice participated in the United States Bowling Congress National Tournament while she was a student-athlete. She graduated from Pikeville in 2012 with bachelor's degrees in mathematics and psychology.
Gilliam is a breast cancer survivor, and she was chosen as a "Fabulous Four" essay contest winner by the USBC in 2015 for sharing her story. The Fabulous Four is part of the USBC's "Bowl for the Cure" program, which is a fundraising and breast cancer awareness initiative associated with Susan G. Komen. She continues to be an outspoken advocate for breast cancer awareness and early detection.
Gilliam is a native of Pecatonica, Ill., and she was the Illinois state champion as a junior. She bowled three 300 games while in high school.