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Jeff Richgels


The 11th Frame: An expert’s take on those joining Junior Team USA for 2014 after Friday's Junior Gold competition

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 10:00 pm

The winners of the 2013 North Pointe Junior Gold Championships. Photo by United States Bowling Congress.

There are two important things at stake when hundreds of the nation’s top youth bowlers compete each year in the North Pointe Junior Gold Championships: national titles and Junior Team USA spots.

On Thursday, four bowlers earned spots on Junior Team USA for 2014 after qualifying ended at Junior Gold, which this year was held in the Detroit area. A record 2,080 athletes took part in the event presented by Track, Columbia 300, Ebonite and Hammer, competing for more than $275,000 in scholarships.

My blog after Thursday’s competition included my expert’s assessment of those four — Nick Kruml, Andrew Anderson, Julia Bond, and Liz Kuhlkin.

My expert on U.S. youth bowling was at Junior Gold all week and agreed to offer opinions on the Team USA qualifiers and selections, as I do not have much first-hand knowledge of the country’s top youth bowlers and couldn’t be at Junior Gold due to my job. I gave my expert anonymity to ensure that they would be as forthcoming as possible.

In Friday’s double-elimination match play, the bowlers earning Junior Gold titles at Sunnybrook Lanes were Wesley Low of Palmdale, Calif., in the U20 (age 20 and under) boys; Bond in U20 girls; Cortez Schenck of Phoenix in U15 boys; and Taylor Russell of Tupelo, Miss., in U15 girls, the United States Bowling Congress reported in this news release.

Bond already had earned her Junior Team USA spot, and the other three joined her in earning spots with their titles.

Low, 16, earlier this year became the youngest bowler ever to win a PBA Regional title, although his came in a non-champions tournament so many continue to consider Pete Weber the holder of the real youngest title winner record.

The young two-handed lefty went undefeated in the double-elimination match-play bracket at 5-0 and beat Kenosha’s Ryan Zagar 456-425 in the two-game title match.

"It feels like I accomplished something really big today," Low, a current Junior Team USA member, said in the USBC release. "All the hard work I put into my spare shooting and practicing on the patterns really paid off and helped me."

Bond, 17, also went undefeated in match play and defeated current Junior Team USA member Sarah Lokker of New Baltimore, Mich., 386-339, in the title match.

"It's all overwhelming — the ceremony, the people, the awards," Bond said in the USBC release. "The fact that I made it this far and was so successful means a lot. To be on the same level as all of the other great bowlers is amazing."

The U20 runnersup also earned 2014 Junior Team USA spots, putting Zagar and Lokker on the team, with Bond’s spot becoming an extra selection by the National Selection Committee, making it five selections.

The selections to Junior Team USA were team veterans Matt Farber of Plainview, N.Y.; Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, Tenn.; Natalie Goodman of O'Fallon, Ill.; and Elise Bolton of Merritt Island, Fla.; and newcomer Breanna Clemmer of Clover, S.C.

Clemmer dominated the U15 girls division heading into match play, leading by an astounding 246 pins after 25 games. She lost a close first match, then won four straight matched before being knocked out by eventual champion Russell.

Clemmer is the first player to be selected from the U15 division onto Junior Team USA, which my expert said was causing some controversy since some considered it a slight on older, more accomplished players. Searching for a suitable analogy, my expert said it was somewhat like “picking a minor leaguer to the starting lineup for the All-Star Game” in baseball.

“Here's the situation,” my expert continued. “The committee may select anyone from competition to the team. They created the U15 division to not only give the boys and girls a chance to succeed, but to also have a shot at 2 selection picks for a ‘developmental team’ if you will. It's been the understanding, as the U15 bowls on completely different patterns, bowls on their own separate squads from the U20, and has much less competition, that a U15 competitor would theoretically never get selected for the big team. They have their own spots, and if they would like a shot at big team, they would have to bowl against the big kids. Well, it happened. Breanna bowled great and got a spot from the U15 division. Social media and private texting erupted at the pick, many calling it a slap in the face to all the U20 girls that they would go into the 15s for a pick. The others had little to no surprise whatsoever. They picked all 4 from previous teams.”

I know how amazing it is to hear the Star Spangled Banner play after winning a gold medal for the U.S. and understand the strong feelings such selections can cause. At the same time, I like that the National Selection Committee is recognizing what certainly appears to be an extraordinary young talent.

Good luck to all who will represent us!

Schenck, 14, who lost in the U15 boys title match last year, won the title this year by going undefeated and beating Michael Martell of Brooklyn, N.Y., 417-390 in the title match.

"After finishing second last year, I just wanted to make sure I didn't choke, and I wanted to put on the best show that I could," Schenck said in the USBC release. "I just can't believe that I won Junior Gold. It's a great feeling and not every kid gets to do this."

In the U15 girls title match, Russell had to knock off previously unbeaten Ashley Channell of Morris Chapel, Tenn., in back-to-back matches. Russell, 15, won 370-353 and then 373-338.

"It's crazy because I never would have thought I would make it this far," Russell said in the USBC release. "It was a very challenging week, but I pushed myself through it."

Needless to say, the players making Junior Team USA were ecstatic, as Facebook postings showed.

Doyle posted this on Facebook: "Jr Team USA for the 3rd year!!!!!!!! Feels great to be back on and so happy for everyone else who made it!! USA!!"

Bolton posted this on Facebook: "So blessed. Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years, my last junior gold was a success. Got picked to represent JuniorTeam USA 2014! 5th year on the team and the feeling never gets old to hear my name being called. Extremely happy to be among the best once again."

Zagar posted this on Facebook: "I have worked hard each and every day for this moment. Ill tell you it is totally worth it. It was a long week of absolute grinding. If you have a goal your have to keep trying until you reach it. I had an early first round loss that put me... into the losers bracket. I fought back all the way to the championship match. Unfortunately I came up a little short. But this is what I came for. I am extremely blessed for this opportunity to represent the USA. Congrats to all the other people who made Junior Team USA."

Goodman posted this on Facebook: "Junior Team USA 2014!!!!!!!!!! — feeling excited."

Clemmer posted this on Facebook on Sunday: "What a week. It feels good to know that all of my hard work has finally paid off. Fought hard all week and met a bunch of new and amazing people/friends! Watched my good friends bowl and keep their spot in the top ten and honestly I am so proud of them! Kennon Mcfalls you fought hard all week and remember your time will come! Dakota Fortner you bowled so good! And you made a amazing improvement from last year! So hold that head high! I want to say thank you t everyone that supported not only me but Kennon, and Dakota. We really appreciate it! I want to say a special congrats to everyone who made Junior Team USA and the Developmental Team! Also, to everyone that bowled in Junior Gold your all winners! Each and every single one of you! No matter what age, race, gender, you are all winners inside and out! To all of my parents Thank you so much for being there for me and supporting me! I would be no where without you! Most of all Thank you God for pushing me through this week and helping me hold my head high and having all these amazing people walk into my life! It wouldnt let me tag everyone else but thank you all for the support! I love you all!"In addition, four U15 bowlers who were age eligible earned spots to compete in the Tournament of Americas in 2014 and to join the Team USA development team program: Schenck; Sean Wilcox of Altamonte Springs, Fla.; Leah Glazer of Henderson, Nev.; and Channell.

Here is a great USBC video feature wrapping up 2013 North Pointe Junior Gold.

And here is the archive of the webcast of Friday’s match play competition.

Here is my expert’s take on the others who will be part of Junior Team USA in 2014:

Wesley Low: Wesley was absolutely untouchable on Friday. He ran through the bracket to win the tournament in fairly easy fashion, without ever coming close to sniffing a loss. One second he had a bad look, and then 7 frames later he had two triples and a 9 spare. It was absolutely amazing how well he bowled on Friday. Wesley is the first to start a theme for the rest of the player analyses — prior Junior Team USA experience. Wesley comes fresh off an outstanding showing in Puerto Rico as well as the Teen Masters event the week before. 2014 will be his second year on the team, as just a 16 year old. For a 2-handed lefty, he will be a force to be dealt with for a long time to come.

Ryan Zagar: Ryan has been really working on his game in the last year under the direction of the outstanding coaching and atmosphere at Robert Morris-Chicago. A major swing change has allowed him to be more compact and more efficient with his swing over the last few months. He's always been good, but has pushed over the greatness edge in that time. Ryan took an early loss on Friday, but then ran through the bracket, downing multiple Junior Team USA members on his way to clinching a spot in the final for an automatic team selection. It has been a long journey of being close to the top for Ryan, and it is great to see such a good kid and great competitor finally reach his goal.

Matt Farber: Matt made a very courageous run on Friday through the bracket. There was one particular elimination match fairly early on, in which he came from about 50 down with 7 frames left to win by a few pins and he never looked back. He unfortunately caught some bad ball reaction to finish 4th after a loss to Zagar, but it was still enough for a committee selection pick. Matt will be bowling his second year on the team, and is also coming off a solid week (at PABCON Youth Championships) in Puerto Rico. Physically, he can do things that others simply can't touch, and it shows when he gets locked in.

Kamron Doyle: If you haven't heard what is becoming the legend of Kamron Doyle, you may not have been paying much attention to bowling media over the last few years. I mean what hasn't this 15-year-old kid done yet, short of winning a national PBA Tour stop? He is so versatile, so clean, and so accurate it isn't even fair. Nothing speaks more than success on the lanes, and he has had plenty of it in the last few years. This is Kamron's 3rd straight year on Junior Team USA, and I really don't see that streak ending until he ages out. This kid is everything Andrew Koff embodied as the face of youth bowling in the United States a few years back and more. If I count right, he still has 5 years left of Junior Gold if he takes them all, and he'll have plenty of opportunities to accumulate possibly the most medals in the history of Junior Team USA when his youth career is over. This kid is the real deal.

Sarah Lokker: Sarah had an outstanding year at Arkansas St, leading her team to another National Championship appearance. She continues to be one of the best in the country at what she does. Her game allows her to play in areas others can't, and on top of it she is dead accurate. She also suffered a loss early, but was able to run through the bracket to automatically qualify for Junior Team USA for the second straight year. She had a great week in Puerto Rico too last week.

Natalie Goodman: One of the few lefties able to make a run on the girls side, Natalie once again proves her abilities in the big stage at Junior Gold. She helped her Vanderbilt team reach a second-place finish at the NCAA National Championships this season, and has added plenty of other accolades since her big performance last year. She fell just short of making a comeback against Sarah to get into the final, but was able to grab a committee selection because of her outstanding performance both this week and last week in Puerto Rico. This is also her second straight year on Junior Team USA.

Elise Bolton: After a brief hiatus last year, Elise returns to Junior Team USA for a 5th year. Elise has been a strong force on the youth front for many years as demonstrated by her time with the team. She attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and joins her college teammate Liz Kuhlkin on the 2014 USA team. Elise uses speed and is able to clear the fronts extremely well, while always keeping the ball in play. Elise will end her junior career as one of the most consistent forces in women's youth bowling in the last decade.

Breanna Clemmer: It's hard to argue with the success of Breanna over the last 2 years in the U15 girls division. Last year she won, and was selected to the ‘developmental team to receive the same level of great coaching that Junior Team USA offers. This year she blew the field away in qualifying, leading by about 250 pins over 25 games and finished 3rd in the bracket. She throws it extremely well for being so young, and will be a great young asset to the team in 2014.

Julia Bond (add to Thursday assessment): Julia posted one of the best performances in the history of the Junior Gold tournament as a high schooler. She led the field by a ton, and never lost on Friday. If she keeps this up, she will be one of the best assets of the team.

The Madison area had one bowler make Friday’s match play: Tyler Sheehy, who bowls in the strong junior program at Prairie Lanes, in U15.

The Madison Bowling Association had a nice feature on Tyler’s Junior Gold performance here.

I bowled against Tyler’s younger brother Quinn Sheehy, then 12, in match play of last year’s Kurt Davids Memorial New Year’s Eve Day Handicap Singles Tournament at Badger Bowl.

Tyler called me a few weeks later to pick my brain a little for advice on getting better and it appears I didn't do too much damage!

According to the MBA report, Sheehy rolled just 884 in his first 5-game block for 71st in his division, then added 1,071 and 1,004 to make the semifinals in 13th. He then added 1,005 to make the top 32 and 1,024 that was high among the 32 in the final round before match play.

In the double-elimination match play, Sheehy went loss, win, loss.

It’s great to see Tyler have a nice run at Junior Gold!


2013 NORTH POINTE JUNIOR GOLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Sunnybrook Lanes, Sterling Heights, Mich.
Friday's results

CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES
Two-game matches decided by total pinfall

U20 BOYS
Wesley Low, Palmdale, Calif., def. Ryan Zagar, Kenosha, Wish, 456-425

U20 GIRLS
Julia Bond, Aurora, Ill., def. Sarah Lokker, New Baltimore, Mich., 386-339

U15 BOYS
Cortez Schenck, Phoenix def. Michael Martell, Brooklyn, N.Y., 417-390

U15 GIRLS
Taylor Russell, Tupelo, Miss., def. Ashley Channell, Morris Chapel, Tenn., 370-353 (Channell's first match play loss; second championship match required) Russell def. Channell, 373-338


NORTH POINTE JUNIOR GOLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
PARTICIPATION HISTORY

Year

City

Participants

2013

Detroit

2,080

2012

Indianapolis

1,928

2011

Las Vegas

1,647

2010

Indianapolis

1,503

2009

Indianapolis

1,634

2008

Detroit

1,491

2007

Buffalo, N.Y.

1,578

2006

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

1,426

2005

Indianapolis

1,475

2004

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

1,307

2003

St. Louis

1,080

2002

Winter Haven/Lakeland, Fla.

960

2001

Reno, Nev.

876

2000

Las Vegas

812

1999

Orlando, Fla.

594

1998

Reno, Nev.

538