Junior Team USA Girls Win First Team Gold Since 2012 at World Youth Championships, Qatar Bags Boys’ Gold

by Matt Cannizzaro, USBC Communications 0

ALLEN PARK, Mich. - For the first time since 2012, the Junior Team USA girls claimed the coveted team gold medal at the World Bowling Youth Championships, while the boys from Qatar returned to the top of the medal stand as a team for the first time in three decades.

The girls team final Thursday at Thunderbowl Lanes was a rematch of the 2016 title tilt between Korea and the United States, and it gave Junior Team USA a chance at redemption on its home turf.

The opportunity was not wasted, as the Junior Team USA girls battled back from an opening-game loss and won the match, 2-1, by scores of 180-205, 214-181 and 230-175 in the modified Baker format.

Junior Team USA jumped out to an early lead in the opener, before a missed single pin in the sixth frame and back-to-back splits to end the game, gave the defending champions the advantage and momentum.

After starting the second game with a 7-10 split, the Junior Team USA girls rallied with four consecutive strikes, stole the momentum and never looked back.

The team's roster included Taylor Bailey of Joliet, Illinois, Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina, Mabel Cummins of Elburn, Illinois, and Caitlyn Johnson of Rockwell, North Carolina. All four competed in the World Youth Championships for the first time.

"After losing the first game, and the way we lost it, I reminded them that in the big picture, it was just one game of Baker," Junior Team USA head coach Bryan O'Keefe said. "Despite the start to the second game, they threw great shots to take the lead and win it. Then, they bowled unbelievable the last game when they needed it most. It's an incredible feeling and one they'll remember for the rest of their lives. I will, as well."

The week certainly had its ups and downs for O'Keefe and his team, but regardless of the pin carry they got along the way, or coming up short with silver medals in singles (Johnson) and doubles (Bailey and Clemmer), the team title is the one that always means the most.

Their game plan this week included focusing on what they call the three Cs - connection, communication and commitment. They were resilient when things weren't going great, and they took advantage of the momentum when it went their way.

"We were all pretty nervous going into the gold-medal match, and after we lost the first game, we were pretty down on ourselves for the mistakes we made," Clemmer said. "We fought back in the second game, and the last game changed everything. We stayed connected and committed to each shot, and it went in our favor."

The last team title for the Junior Team USA girls came in Bangkok in 2012. That year, the United States swept the team event for the first time in history, and the victory also marked the first of three consecutive wins for the Junior Team USA boys. The boys finished ninth this week at Thunderbowl Lanes.

In 2014, the girls earned a bronze medal in the team event, and they left the 2016 tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska, with silver after being swept by Korea, 2-0.

"Winning feels amazing," said Clemmer, a five-time member of Junior Team USA. "We've been waiting for this for years, and it was our time. We knew that no matter what happened, we were still gold medalists in our hearts, but to come back and win is something we'll never forget."

The United States and Korea both were 2-0 winners Thursday in the semifinals. Korea, the top seed after six games of qualifying, eased past Sweden, 255-212 and 243-216, while the United States downed Malaysia, 189-162 and 224-173.

Qatar's return to the spotlight at the World Youth Championships also was a long time coming, with the country's last team gold medal coming at the inaugural event in 1988.

That tournament, known then as the International Youth Championships, was held in the Philippines, and Qatar's road to the title Thursday also went through the Philippines.

This time, Qatar defeated the Philippines, 2-1, in the semifinals to earn a place in the 2018 final against Finland, a 2-0 winner against top-seeded Japan.

Led by this week's boys all-events gold medalist Ghanim Aboujassoum, Qatar made light work of Finland, claiming the title with a 2-0 sweep by scores of 239-238 and 233-199.

In the opening game of the title match, Finland anchor and all-events bronze medalist, Niko Oksanen, struck on his fill ball to force Aboujassoum to throw three strikes in the final frame for the one-pin victory.

Qatar's only other gold medal prior to the 2018 event came in all-events in 1992.

"We reset this program in 2009 and set a lot of goals, one of which was to win at least one medal at the 2016 World Youth Championships, which we did," said Qatar head coach Pedro Merani. "Now, to be on top of the world is amazing."

Qatar's success at Thunderbowl Lanes means a lot for the future of the program. Aboujassoum's individual success also showed Merani much about his anchor bowler's resilience and strong mental game.

Aboujassoum was frustrated after missing the cut to the singles medal round by one pin, but he maintained his focus and averaged more than 230 for 18 games to win all-events.

"This pattern (44-foot London) definitely played to Ghanim's strengths, and even though he missed the first medal round, I was able to explain to him that I felt he had the best reaction of the entire field," Merani said. "He was able to stay focused and keep doing what he was doing, and here we are."

Aboujassoum was joined on the lanes by Jassem  Al Deyab, Jassim Al Muraikhi and Mohammed Al Merekhi, the singles silver medalist in 2016.

All competitors this week bowled 18 games - six games in singles, doubles and team - and gold, silver and bronze all-events medals were awarded based on 18-game pinfall totals.

The top overall performers, 24 boys and 24 girls, advanced to Masters match play, which got underway Thursday afternoon.

Of the seven Junior Team USA players who advanced, only Cortez Schenck of Phoenix remains among the eight boys and eight girls still in contention.

Competition will resume Friday at 9 a.m. Eastern, with the Masters semifinals scheduled to get underway at 10:15 a.m. EDT.

The World Youth Championships is held every two years, and the 2018 edition has brought more than 200 competitors from 37 countries to the Detroit area to bowl for medals in singles, doubles, team, all-events and Masters competition.

World Bowling is providing livestream coverage of the event, and bowling fans from around the globe will be able to watch the competition live from start to finish. Coverage will include all qualifying, semifinal and final rounds.

For more information on the 2018 World Youth Championships or to watch the livestream, visit 2018WYC.WorldBowling.org.

2018 WORLD BOWLING YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Thunderbowl Lanes
Allen Park, Mich.

Thursday's results

GIRLS TEAM

CHAMPIONSHIP
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)

United States def. Korea, 2-1 (180-205, 214-181, 230-175).

SEMIFINALS
(Winners advance, losers tie for bronze)

Korea def. Sweden, 2-0 (255-212, 243-212).
United States def. Malaysia, 2-0 (189-162, 224-173).

GIRLS ALL-EVENTS
(18-game pinfall totals - six games of singles, doubles and team)

Gold - Nur Sahar, Malaysia, 3,937.
Silver - Juliana Botero, Colombia, 3,903.
Silver - Hong Sunhwa, Korea, 3,903.

BOYS TEAM

CHAMPIONSHIP
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)

Qatar def. Finland, 2-0 (239-238, 233-199).

SEMIFINALS
(Winners advance, losers tie for bronze)

Finland def. Japan, 2-0 (214-202, 208-162).
Qatar def. Philippines, 2-1 (213-190, 158-176, 217-173).

BOYS ALL-EVENTS
(18-game pinfall totals - six games of singles, doubles and team)

Gold - Ghanim Aboujassoum, Qatar, 4,141.
Silver - Han Jaehyeon, Korea, 4,093.
Bronze - Niko Oksanen, Finland, 4,078.

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