ARLINGTON, Texas - When Caitlyn Johnson and her Junior Team USA teammates head to the Dominican Republic this week, she'll be a veteran and a rookie at the same time.
The 20-year-old right-hander is a two-time member of Junior Team USA, a world champion and a collegiate standout, but her trip to the 2019 Pan American Bowling Confederation Youth Championships will mark her first time outside of the United States.
Johnson plans to use her experience and knowledge to serve a leadership role at Santo Domingo's Sebelen Bowling Center, while she'll rely on advice from her friends and teammates to get comfortable in the foreign bowling center and unfamiliar culture.
Competition at the 22-lane bowling center, which previously hosted the 2018 PABCON Women's Championships, will begin Monday after a formal opening ceremony Sunday night.
Bowlers from nearly a dozen countries will compete for medals in singles, doubles, trios, team, all-events and Masters competition. There will be two divisions - 21-and-under and 16-and-under. Team USA only will compete in the U21 category.
Johnson will be joined at the 2019 PABCON Youth Championships by fellow world champions Mabel Cummins and Kamerin Peters, along with two-time Junior Team USA member Kaitlyn Eder.
"This will be my final event with Junior Team USA, and I'm really excited to go because it will be my first time out of the country," said Johnson, who is entering her senior year at Webber International University. "I'm definitely looking forward to traveling with this group of girls. I think we have a strong group with great chemistry, and we bonded so well at camp, so I know we're going to do well on the lanes."
Four Junior Team USA boys also will be making the trip to Santo Domingo, and the roster will include world champion Cortez Schenck, Team USA member Sean Wilcox, two-time Junior Gold Championships winner Anthony Neuer and first-time Junior Team USA member Tom Hankey Jr.
Wilcox, a 20-year-old right-hander who debuted this year on both Junior Team USA and the adult version of the team, recently made his own first appearance on the international stage, collecting three medals, including doubles and team gold, at the 2019 PABCON Men's Championships in Peru.
Though he was the young newcomer looking up to his experienced teammates at that event and the mini training camp that preceded it, he'll now switch roles and use that experience to lead his Junior Team USA teammates.
It's an interesting and exciting dynamic he noticed during the recent Junior Team USA training camp at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington.
"It's a little bit surreal, considering that a few months ago, I was the young guy at camp asking questions and hoping to learn as much as I could from some of the best bowlers in the world," Wilcox said. "At our Junior Team USA camp, the roles kind of were reversed, and some of the guys were asking me for help or some thoughts on how I see things out on the lanes. It was pretty cool, and a little funny, at the same time."
Over the last two years, the Junior Team USA girls have enjoyed continued success and look to continue that at the upcoming PABCON Youth Championships.
In 2018, Johnson and Cummins helped the United States to the team gold medal at the World Bowling Youth Championships in Detroit, and Cummins and Peters kicked off 2019 with a doubles gold medal at the inaugural World Bowling Junior Championships in Paris.
Schenck also claimed a gold medal at the 2018 World Youth Championships, winning the tournament-ending Masters event for the lone medal on the boys side.
"Last year, what we did at the World Championships was amazing, especially since none of us had been to that event before," said Johnson, the 2017-2018 National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association Most Valuable Player. "To be able to have similar success this time would be the perfect way to end my time with Junior Team USA."
Along with her collegiate experience at Webber International, Johnson also has tested her skills in some Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour events.
Eder, who has represented the United States at the Lee Evans Tournament of the Americas, also has collegiate experience as a member of the Louisiana Tech bowling team, while Cummins and Peters still are in high school.
"I think I bring a lot of experience, not just with Junior Team USA, but from bowling other tournaments, like collegiate and PWBA events, and, with that, comes some knowledge," Johnson said. "I think I'll be able to help the team talk through things, help with moves and even help with the nerves. It's a big international tournament, and I know even I'll be nervous, but I'm looking forward to playing a role as a leader and veteran."
Wilcox will enter this week's event with a level of confidence he didn't yet have before taking the lanes in Peru.
It's not that he wasn't confident in his abilities, it was more about being unfamiliar with the environment and level of competition.
"Going into the PABCON Men's Championships, I knew I could do well, but there still was some self-doubt, since it was my first international event and first chance to represent Team USA," Wilcox said. "This time, I'm definitely going in more confident. I had a great experience in Peru, we did well and I learned so much - mentally, physically and just about how to react in certain situations."
Neuer also is fresh off a trip to the 2019 World Junior Championships, where he earned a doubles silver medal with Solomon Salama, and Hankey's previous 12 months includes wins at the 2019 Intercollegiate Singles Championships and Intercollegiate Team Championships with Webber International.
"No matter what event it is, I think there's still going to be nerves," Wilcox said. "The best advice I can give is to remember it's still just bowling. It's the same game we play at home with our friends and family. The only difference is that we get to wear a really special jersey, instead of a T-shirt. Picturing it that way helps me stay more relaxed."
For more information on Junior Team USA, visit BOWL.com/JuniorTeamUSA.
PABCON includes competitors from North, Central and South America, along with the Caribbean.
For more information about the PABCON Youth Championships, visit PABCON.org.