After surviving a minor scare on the last team squad Monday night, Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 became the latest group of Cheeseheads to win Eagles at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships.
This is the fourth straight year a Wisconsin squad has won the team Eagle.
When they took the lead way back on March 5 with a huge 3,401, I wrote this:
"It’s not the Secret Wisconsin Shot that produces our success at the Open Championships, it’s what you might call the 'Cheesehead Formula': talent + smarts + practice + teamwork. (Though teams from many other states also follow it.)"
In fact, I think the most telling thing about the La Crosse group's performance is that companion team Nicholas J's Pro Shop 1 — five bowlers all making their FIRST appearance at the Open Championships — finished 16th with 3,204.
That tells you what great teamwork the group had in working together to play the difficult lane pattern in Baton Rouge. More on that in a bit, including details the team hasn't previously revealed on how they played the lanes.
I look forward to congratulating them in person. These are good young bowlers who honor the game and work hard at it. If anyone deserves such success, they do.
The last minor scare on Monday night came from Del Rosa Lanes 1, a strong team made up of Frank Barefoot, Craig Auerbach, Arcadio Aguyayo, Ed VanDaniker Jr., and Vince Wood.
They opened with 1,061 and 1,102, leaving them needing 1,238 to tie in game three. However, they fell to 956 and 3,119, which ended up tied for 58th.
I predicted the 3,401 would win about five weeks after Nicholas J's shot the huge score, and became pretty certain they would win when our Turbo 2-N-1 Grips 1 team managed just 3,197 on May 18.
Wisconsin-based bowlingfordumdums.com, which actually has just two Wisconsin bowlers, made the most serious run at the 3,401, coming within a tough final frame of knocking it off with a 3,376 on June 22.
In addition to family and friends, team captain Nick Heilman said in a Facebook message to me for this blog that he wanted to especially thank proprietor Dick Zierke and everyone at Pla-Mor Lanes, who "have always made a huge effort to help us get ready for this tourney by being very accommodating on our practice time for this tournament and anything else we need," and Brunswick, specifically Frank Marrese, who "saw something in myself and Nicholas J’s Pro Shop very early on when we were just getting started and very small. Frank and Brunswick always made the pro shop, and myself, feel like a priority and for that we will always be thankful and loyal to them."
Heilman, a Brunswick staffer and PBA Regional champion, led the 3,401 with a stellar 769, followed by Andy Mills at 680, Trevor Yonan at 679, Matt Mysliwiec at 659, and Greg Pizl at 614.
Rob Warren led the first-timers on the companion team with 663, followed by Thomas York at 659, Matt Krueger at 642, and Jade Lucas and Megan Jirsa at 620 each.
Krueger, Warren, Jirsa, York and Pizl all bowl together at Viterbo University in La Crosse.
"The biggest sense of pride that I have is that we did this as a group of 10 all focused and committed to one goal," Heilman said. "We didn't so much have a number we were shooting for, but just to stay committed to our game plan. And that’s what we did, everyone stuck to it and believed. We got both our teams in the top 16 in the country, that means more to me than just our team winning.
"What makes our teams special is that all 10 of us are very close friends that have a real passion for bowling. Everyone one of us is committed to improving our games and never being satisfied with where we are. We all have dreams and aspirations in bowling and all of us have, and continue to, work our tails off to get there.
"I don’t think I can say that this was even a dream when we got to Baton Rouge, it was beyond that. But we worked as one team of 10 and were lucky enough to have that dream come true. I’m sure we will take some time to celebrate this and then we will get back to work to hopefully make this dream an annual tradition. The average age for our group when we bowled was 22, and our team was 23, so hopefully this will be just the beginning of something even more special."
Heilman said the team's game plan was to "try to play to everyone’s strengths and not take anyone out of their comfort zone. In practice we had eight of us playing up 3 to 5 board with dull solids mostly at 1,000 (Abralon), while Andy and TJ threw plastic balls at 12 at the arrows to the tracer at 10 board. Andy and TJ’s A game is playing inside so we decided we were going to let them do that but try to have them push down some hold by Andy using a couple Brunswick Nexus Pearls and TJ throwing a DV8 Misfit about 17 out to 10. The rest started game 1 between 5 and 8 board with the same balls as practice and just played up the boards. There was a Brunswick Nexus Solid, a couple DV8 HellRaiser Revenges, C System 2.5, Revolver type balls being used.
"By the end of the first game the outsides were getting really nice and we all started to creep in a bit and ball down just a little. We wanted reactions that were really smooth off the dry and nothing that jumped off of it. By the early part of the second game when most of us had gotten in to between 7 and 10 we knew we couldn’t have made the lanes any better than they were. We had hold inside from Andy and TJ and the more you threw it out the more it came back. From about frame 5 of game 2 I was more worried about blowing a huge hole in the pattern than striking so we just continued to ball down and stay in that same area of the lane. By game 3 they were just getting better and better and it wasn’t until about the 8th frame of that game that we started looking at numbers on the scoreboard."
Even shooting 3,401 on the lowest-scoring Open Championships pattern since 2005, the team felt like it left "at least 50 easy pins out on the lanes in missed easy spares" — the team missed four single-pins in its eight opens — "On top of that when Trevor balled down to his Vapor Zone in game 2 he grabbed the wrong one, and we didn’t notice until the 10th frame when he had pounded the pocked the entire game with nothing to show for it. That’s what makes the waiting so hard, because we knew we left pins on the lanes."
The most interesting thing about their game plan is having two bowlers throw plastic balls in practice, something I've always been hesitant to do because of the chance of messing up the shot with oil pushed down lane in the wrong places.
Heilman said they were confident the 3,401 was a top five score when they left Baton Rouge and grew more confident as time passed.
"After March passed we thought probably top 4, April passed and so top 3, and each month after we felt a little more confident in our number," he said. "However, until the final shift was done bowling last night we didn’t put that pressure on ourselves of thinking we would win.
"It was a long 126 days of waiting!!!! Within a week of being back in La Crosse people told us they heard our score had been beat already, so needless to say we were constantly on the website checking scores. There were some long nights that seemed to drag on and on — while the CareerAthletes team put up over 1,130 the first game and then when bowlingfordumdums got so close as well."
When Heilman talks about his teammates, he reminds me of the feelings I had back in the 1980s with the remarkable Kendor/Faball group I was so fortunate to be part of that helped mold me into the bowler I became.
"I have never been around 9 other people that work so hard on their game," he said. "They practice, get lessons, spend money to drive hours upon hours to get to tournaments all to make themselves better. I couldn't ask for a better group of friends and bowlers to share this with. Everyone shares the same outlook on bowling, 'There are no failures, only challenges.'
"Some of us have had an opportunity to be invited to join other teams for nationals, teams that are made up of some of the best bowlers/teams the Midwest has, with bowlers that we have become good friends with and that we greatly admire and respect. But nothing could ever feel as good as doing what we did with the people we have grown up together with."
Another thing Heilman has correct is that it will take a long time to really understand what winning an Eagle means — I don't think I totally appreciated my first in 1986 until I'd spent a decade trying to win another before I got my second in 1997.
"I don’t think it will really kick in until next year in Reno what it means to have won," he said. "It will be a little weird to see our names on the sheet by the squad room and to see a banner hanging from the ceiling with our names on it, that’s when it will kick in."
The rest of the team said they echoed Heilman's thoughts.
"After a 4-plus month wait, I am glad Nationals is finally over and we held on," Yonan said. "Those 4 months were full of nervousness, excitement, webcasts, and impatience. I can’t describe how happy I am with what we accomplished. As I’ve looked back on my bowling career in the past, I’ve thought of many moments that I have had and thought those could be the best things I may ever accomplish. I think I can safely assume I was incorrect. I also want to thank Nick, because without him, none of this would have been possible and I want him to know how much of the credit he deserves. Without him, I honestly don’t know where my bowling game would be right now. After last year's record scores, I didn’t think we had a chance to hold on to the lead with so many tremendous teams left to go out there. I’m not sure how we held on, but I’m sure glad we did. Even if we never do anything again at nationals, nobody can ever take away what we accomplished this year. Again, I can’t thank my teammates enough."
"I don’t have anything more to offer on my end other than: All I can say is that I am grateful to be a part of this area and a part of Nicholas J’s Pro Shop bowling teams cuz frankly I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else," Mills said.
"I couldn't have said it better myself," Mysliwiec said. "It’s an amazing feeling that I don’t think has really kicked in yet. I'm thinking like Nick said, I don’t know if it really will settle in until we get to Reno next year."
"Thank you Nick for putting in writing what was in my head!" Pizl said. "Just overwhelmingly happy to be a part of it all. But another Big Thank You to Nick of course, he was the guy who prepared us all, drilled our equipment, set up practice times, coached us physically and mentally, and even typed up our complete game plan for each person (of the 10!) on the team so there was no confusion. I can't say enough about his leadership ability on and off the lanes that just gives us that added sense of confidence. Needless to say I'm glad WE have this guy and there is no way we could have done this without him. But yes it really just was the best bowling experience of my life most likely because like Nick said we are all good friends who spend time on and off the lanes together, that's what makes this so special. Really hope we can keep these teams for years to come!"
Pizl also wanted to thank those who helped get where he has in bowling "thus allowing me to find and meet this group of amazing friends and fellow bowlers. Most of which would be my parents! They really are the biggest reason for almost all of my bowling success. From day 1 they encouraged me to follow my dreams and they did everything they could to allow me the opportunities to do so (SO many tournaments!!!) And also Dave Steger Jr. A guy who used to manage Northstar Lanes in Antigo and gave me so much of all the things a bowler needs: Endless practice on any shot we could think of, putting together an arsenal every year for Junior Gold that allowed me to be competitive (he drilled them of course), and of course coaching on the lanes physically and mentally. He taught me many things just by watching what he did ... and I do indeed still follow his examples of how to act during competition."
The last minor events squad is Tuesday night and I'll have another blog Tuesday on the remaining Eagle winners.
The last lead change was Matt McNiel taking the doubles and all-events lead the last weekend of April.
Here is the USBC news release on the 2012 champions.