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Dakota Solonka runs stepladder to win 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open for ‘biggest thing I’ve done’

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2023 11:00 pm
Dakota Solonka runs stepladder to win 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open for ‘biggest thing I’ve done’
Dakota Solonka, center, with the check for winning the 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open. GIBA administrator Joe Engelkes is at right and some has-been bowler and journalist is at left. Photo by Rosie Engelkes.

If you were going on resume and reputation alone, Dakota Solonka would have been a decided underdog heading into the stepladder finals of the 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open.

But Solonka bowled like a Hall of Famer in defeating Zach Andresen, Nick Kruml, Shea Bittenbender, and top seed David Krol by a combined 167 pins to win the title.

Andresen, 18, finished second in the PBA Jr. National Championship and is one of the most highly regarded young players in the country. Kruml is a PBA Regional champion who just won two Eagles with one of the greatest performances in USBC Open Championships history. Bittenbender is one of the best non-PBA members in the country and has won many tournaments, including a PBA Regional. And Krol is a PBA Tour player who has won two PBA Regionals this year.


“I averaged 190 my senior year of high school,” Solonka, a 2-hander who developed his game in five years under coach Eric Littig at St. Ambrose ending in 2022, said after his win. “This is the biggest thing I've done for sure.”

And he wouldn’t have had a chance to do it if he hadn’t grinded through a tough qualifying round on Saturday: Solonka made the top 48 who advanced to Sunday in 37th with 1,243 on games on games of 221, 239, 178, 181, 211 and 213, just 14 pins above the cut number and 205 pins behind leader Brady Stearns.

“I hit 5-6 (178) and if you bowled you knew that pair was not very good,” Solonka said of the most notorious pair at Cherry Lanes in the Diamond Jo Casino building in Dubuque, Iowa. “I 7-10'd in the 10th the next game for 180. And then I was 30 over. But I dug really deep, shot 210, 213. A chip and a chair is what they say, right?”

That is so right in the 11hFrame.com Open, which for Sunday’s semifinals uses the innovative format from the fertile mind of Mike Flanagan that features 12 games of bowling with bonus pins based on score from highest to lowest. For example, if 48 advance to Sunday in each game the highest scorer will get 48 bonus pins, the second-highest scorer 47 pins, so on down to 1 bonus pin for the lowest score each game.

Yes, it’s not head-to-head; instead, it’s all-against-one. The idea is to reward the consistently solid bowler and not the one who may bowl the right people at the right time. And everyone who makes the cut gets to bowl all of Sunday's games.

The top five after 18 games with bonus pins make the stepladder finals, which are contested on fresh oil.

With 12 games and 48 bonus pins available each game, making the top five from 37th — or even 48th — is reasonable if a bowler has a stellar day.

“I told myself, you know, got nothing to lose, so why not go for it all?” Solonka said.

And that’s what Solonka did, rolling games of 257, 200, 278, 221, 255, 279, 202, 189, 248, 258, 231 and 200. His 2,818 total on Sunday was behind only Bittenbender’s 2,860 and Kruml’s 2,845, and his 413 bonus pins tied sixth place finisher Lucas Hersrud for second behind Bittenbender’s 430.

The Flanagan format results are in this Google document that was updated each game on Sunday. All results are at this page.

After his 278, which featured the first nine strikes, Solonka said he thought that “this has life. I can actually keep putting up scores and give this a run. And so that really set me up the rest of the day.”

The difference for Solonka in going from a 207.16 average on Saturday to 234.83 on Sunday?

“Just keeping my head down, keep throwing it as good as I can throw it over and over,” he said.

The 2-handed Solonka used a PURPLE HAMMER almost exclusively, he said: “All day yesterday, most of today. I threw a RST-X1 a couple of games on a funky pair, but it was urethane most of the way.”

With fresh oil, there was no doubt he was going to use the PURPLE HAMMER in the title match.

The 2-handed Andresen, whose parents own Princeton Lanes in Princeton, Minnesota, and who will be attending Mount Mercy, countered with a Storm PITCH BLACK and the two power players went back and forth in a titanic first match.

Solonka left a flat 10 for a spare in the first and started stringing strikes, while Andresen started with a strike and a 4-pin for a spare, and then started stringing strikes.

Solonka blinked first when he left a 10 in the eight and spared it, then struck in the ninth to give him a potential 269.

Andresen could strike out the ninth and 10th for 280, with a 9-spare and three strikes, or two strikes and a 9-spare giving him 269.

But he didn’t send the ball right on lane 14 in the ninth, punched the face and left a 3-4-6-10, got zero on the spare, and followed with a strike, solid 10 and spare for 228.

Solonka left a light 7 he converted and struck for 249.

He said his thought was the same: “just keep throwing them as good as I can throw them. And if I lost with 260 or 250, whatever, then that's bowling.”

Against Kruml, Solonka started with five strikes, a 10-pin he spared and then two more strikes, while Kruml sandwiched two spares around a Greek church in the second, then followed three strikes with a 2-7-8 for an open that essentially ended the match that ended 243-175.

While Kruml went with a PITCH BLACK urethane after trying reactive resin for four of his six practice balls, his stronger side turn gave him not quite the reaction of Solonka’s heavy roll.

“As all my friends would know, I'm super rolly, super up the back of it,” Solonka said. “Got it to dig pretty early and it just set up really well.”

Bittenbender elected to go with reactive resin and started with a 3-4-6-7 split for an open, a 3-7- split for an open, a Brooklyn 5-pin for a spare, a 4-6-9 split for an open, and a 2-10 split he converted. After another open in the seventh, Bittenbender closed with five strikes for 179.

That was not close to enough against the clean 237 Solonka cruised to after starting with four strkes.

“The pair developed really well — what I like to see,” Solonka said. “I could really roll it and get it to set up and not over-bounce off the friction. Got it to shim a little bit too. So I mean, the pair just broke down exactly the way I wanted it to.”

Krol countered with a PURPLE HAMMER of his own and while Solonka won the match 256-236, it could be argued that Krol bowled a better game.

Solonka started with seven strikes, including one that definitely was left of target, and after leaving a 2-8 he spared, carried a pocket 7-10 in the ninth with some wild messengering.

“That's bowling right?” Solonka said. “Gave it a chance. And of course, got lucky a couple of times. But we take those, you know what I'm saying?”

Krol started with a 2-7 and spare on lane 14, which definitely had hang that 13 did not.

“I thought I threw that well,” Krol said of his 2-7. “Might have got around it a little.”

He then left three straight 10-pins for spares, the second on a messenger in front of the 10, and the third a solid ringer.

Krol then followed with four flush strikes and a powerful mixer strike, before leaving a brutal solid 10 in the 10th when he could struck out for 257 to put pressure on Solonka, who marked in the 10th for a 256-236 win.

The stepladder finals and interview with Solonka aired on the Greater Iowa Bowling Association Facebook page.

Solonka made this post on Facebook after his win:
"Wow, I really don’t know what to say. WINNER AT THE 11TH FRAME OPEN IN DUBUQUE!!
*EXTREMELY long post ahead* 
Didn’t make it easy on myself in qualifying. Had good ball reaction early but wasn’t able to take full advantage. Hit 5&6 and shot 178 (iykyk) and had 180 the next game. Was able to rally and shoot 210 213 to get to 43 over and qualify 37th of 48 players. Started striking early and often (had the front 9 twice but didn’t have the front 10 either time) to get to 418 over for the 12 games before bonus pins, and did just enough to hang on to the fifth seed for the stepladder finals, and stacked stepladder at that.
Got through the first match and beat two of the best in the Midwest in matches 2 and 3 in Nick Kruml and Shea Bittenbender. Defeated David Krol in the finals for my first GIBA title, and easily the biggest most prestigious event win of my career.
Many shoutouts and “thank yous” to go around. Firstly, to my friends for sticking around and watching the stepladder. It’s always easier when those close to you are nearby supporting you. Secondly, to Nate and Seth for making bowling fun again. I really didn’t know if I was going to bowl at all after college, but here we are! To Eric, with his insight he suggested a ball change back to urethane game 9 and I was able to shoot 740 and get back into the ladder. To Jeff Richgels, for his hard work in the bowling industry and his sponsorship of this tournament. Finally, last but certainly not least, Joe Engelkes for providing a platform for players to compete at an extremely high level. The GIBA tournaments are always well ran and some of the most fun I’ve had over the years.
Hand is starting to feel more healthy, and the passion to compete and win is back! Long may it continue.
As always, repping the Bowlers ER!"

Brenden Sramek and Krol each fired perfect games on Sunday.

The entry fee was $160, first through fifth was $2,800, $2,300, $1,800, $1,400 and $1,100, and 52 of the 156 players cashed. Solonka also took home $760 in the Bet You Win pot. The full prize list is attached to this story.

The lane pattern was 37 feet with 24.63 mL of Connect oil and pattern ratios by volume of 1.11-1 on the left and 1.66-1 on the right. 

The top left-handers were Cameron Crowe in seventh and 2-time champion Nate Stubler in ninth.

GIBA administrator Joe Engelkes said there was more than $4,000 in added money from GIBA sponsor Ebonite and returning sponsors the Dubuque Regional Sports CommissionDiamond Jo CasinoCherry LanesIAMBowling, and 11thFrame.com

Engelkes sent out this email report after the tournament:
"The 2023-24 GIBA season got off to an amazing start with the 11thFrame.com Open held at Cherry Lanes in Dubuque over the weekend.  Congrats go out to Dakota Solonka as he ran the stepladder from his #5 qualifying position to take home the title.  The first match of the finals proved to be the key to Solonka's title run.  Solonka started with a spare, then ran off 7 strikes before leaving a 10 pin in the 9th frame. Normally, that would be good enough to claim a victory. However, his opponent, Zach Andresen, started strike, spare, then followed with 6 strikes of his own. Stepping up in the 9th frame with the opportunity to strike out and lock up the win, Andresen made his only bad shot of the match and the resulting split and open, allowed Solonka to win the match.  Ahead of Solonka would be matches against three extremely strong and talented bowlers so the road to a win was going to be difficult.  Nick Kruml was the next opponent and Kruml's  recent performance at the USBC Open Championships certainly had to give him great confidence.  Unfortunately for Kruml, his ball reaction was not good on the championship pair and while Solonka was able to keep striking, Kruml just never got lined up to strike. Moving on, Solonka then faced Shea Bittenbender, another of the top bowlers in the Midwest area, and the match was nearly an instant replay of the previous match.  Solonka kept on striking while Bittenbender just never got lined up.  The title match had Solonka facing off against high qualifier David 'Boog' Krol.  Once again, Solonka was able to string strikes early while Krol stayed clean through 5 frames, but struggled to get all ten pins to drop.  Krol tried to make it interesting as he found a string of strikes going into his 10th frame.  With a chance to strike out and put a bit of pressure on Solonka, Krol left a ring 10 pin and the match was over.
I want to thank each of the 156 bowlers who filled our field for this tournament.  For the first time in a long time, we did not have a no show.  We did have one bowler who injured her back early in shadow balls, but we were able to fill that spot.  Thanks to a lengthy list of sponsors, we were able to pay out a total prize fund of $30,180.00 with entry fees collected of $24,960.00.  Those sponsors included Diamond Jo Casino, Cherry Lanes (donated all the lineage), Dubuque Sports Commission, 11thFrame.com, IAM Bowling, Kwik Trip/Kwik Star, Ebonite, and Brandon Steen/The Steen Team.  In addition, the GIBA paid out $640.00 in prize money to one senior and three female cashers outside of the major prize list, added an additional $500.00 to the major prize list, and added $100.00 to the sweeper prize list from our bracket proceeds.  Be sure to support these sponsors as we couldn't offer these great prize lists without them.
One item I need to cover, I have in my possession a case with 3 IT thumb inserts that was left at Cherry Lanes.  If you are missing this case, please let me know and we will figure out how to get them back to you.
Our next tournament will be the Ebonite Fall Classic.  This tournament is currently full with 168 entries and has a waiting list with about 20 names on it so far.  I did have a longer waiting list for the 11thFrame, and I used up that whole list so if you want to bowl and do not have a reserved spot yet, let me know and I will get you on the waiting list.
Thanks for all the awesome support of our events!!"

Darin Bloomquist edged Lucas Hersrud and Brady Stearns to win the 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open Sweeper on Friday night, as I detailed in this story.

My preview of the 2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open is here.

PBA Tour player Nick Pate won the 2022 11thFrame.com Open.

Matt McNiel won in 2012Matt Gasn in 2014McNiel again in 2015Jay Watts in 2016Adam Morse in 2017Andy Mills in 2018Nate Stubler in 2019Jerry Marrs in 2020, and Stubler again in 2021. (No tournament was held in 2013.)

2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open prize list
2023 GIBA 11thFrame.com Open prize list