It's a marathon and a series of sprints at the same time, challenging competitors on a variety of lane conditions over five days and 30 games.
For the second consecutive year, USBC Hall of Famer Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, has been able to rely on her decades of experience to calmly navigate the unique format and lane conditions ranging from 33 to 45 feet.
Through four days of competition in the point-based format, Kulick has been dominant and near-perfect in maintaining her place atop the 164-player women's field.
Bowlers earn ranking points based on where they finish in the daily standings. The leader earns one point, second place earns two and so on. Each day features a different World Bowling lane condition, chosen from the same banks of patterns athletes would face while competing internationally for Team USA or Junior Team USA.
Kulick, a 42-year-old right-hander and 15-time member of Team USA, has been the daily leader in three of the four rounds this week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.
She opened the event with two first-place efforts, finished seventh on Day 3 and ended the fourth round with back-to-back games in the 240s to land at the top once again. Her dominant performance has earned her 10 ranking points.
Since the USBC Team USA Trials moved to its current five-round format, eight-time Team USA member Danielle McEwan holds the women's record for the lowest point total. She won the 2016 tournament with 24 points.
"This week just feels a little different, and when I look around, I'm surrounded by a lot of good bowlers, who happen to be breaking down the lanes in a way that benefits my style," said Kulick, who at 41, became the oldest woman to win the Trials. "They're starting more toward the outside and moving in, and I can get inside and create more room using their friction to the right. I've also been really keen on spares and putting in as much effort on the second shot as the first."
With one round to go at the 2020 event, Lauren Pate of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, is second with 33 points and followed by three-time Team USA member Sydney Brummett of Fort Wayne, Indiana (36), two-time Team Trials winner Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (50), and defending U.S. Amateur champion Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina (54).
Kulick averaged 223.33 over six games Monday on the 33-foot World Bowling Sydney oil pattern for a 1,340 total and was followed in the daily standings by Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (1,303), Kamerin Peters of Toms River, New Jersey (1,300), Megan Eaglehouse of Cibolo, Texas (1,289), and Paige Peters, also from Toms River, with 1,286.
Heading into the 2020 Team Trials, Kulick had been focusing on her release and some of the physical things she felt needed attention. So far this week, though, she's found her continued success by being mentally strong, while worrying less about the physical aspects.
"I really feel this week, I've been a very smart bowler," Kulick said. "I've always focused on the physical, even when I coach, trying to find that better feel or get close to it. But, I'm always trying to change my feel to change the reaction, rather than really paying attention to the reaction itself. These last four days, I've taken all my attention away from the physical game and put it on my ball reaction, what I see and how I respond to it. More of the mental stuff, than the physical."
On the men's side, left-hander Matt Russo of Fairview Heights, Illinois, found his way back to the top of the overall standings. He out-averaged the 175-player men's field by more than 10 pins Monday and finished the fourth round with 49 total points.
Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois, is second with 61 points and followed by former Junior Team USA member Michael Martell of Chicago (64), Solomon Salama of Beverly Hills, California, a member of Team USA and Junior Team USA in 2019 (76) and former Junior Team USA member Kyle Sherman of O'Fallon, Missouri (82).
Defending champion John Janawicz of Winter Haven, Florida, a nine-time Team USA member, is 28th with 179 points.
"This is a great position to be in, and one I never thought I'd be in, especially after how I bowled the second day," said Russo, a Team USA member in 2017 and 2018. "Two days where I didn't think I'd have the best ball reaction, just looking at the field, I was able to manufacture something really good. I'm focused on a strong finish to the week but don't want to overthink it. Finishing in the top four is the ultimate goal, and winning would be an amazing bonus."
Russo, a 23-year-old left-hander, posted a 1,414 six-game total Monday, a 235.67 averaged. He was followed by Corey Umbrello of Westminster, Massachusetts (1,351), Junior Team USA member Anthony Neuer of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (1,342), TJ Rock of Henderson, Nevada (1,338), and 2019 Junior Gold U20 winner Alec Keplinger of Coldwater, Michigan (1,328).
Russo entered Monday's round riding the momentum of an exciting Sunday night, though it has nothing to do with bowling.
He was able to manufacture a little magic off the lanes, too, and returned to Gold Coast as an engaged man. In front of friends and family Sunday, he proposed to Pate, and she happily accepted his proposal.
With him leading the men's field and her second on the women's side, the reality of them beginning the next phase of their lives together as Team USA members is just six games away.
"Her bowling well has motivated me to bowl well," Russo said. "We came out here with the same goal, and that is to make Team USA together. Actually, watching her has been a huge benefit. I've seen a couple different things while watching her that I might not have seen otherwise, like how certain balls and shots are reacting and some characteristics of the house itself."
At the completion of Tuesday's fifth round, the players with the lowest point totals in their respective divisions will be the 2020 Team USA Trials champions.
In addition to the title and trophy, the Team Trials winners also earn automatic spots on Team USA and the chance to represent the United States at the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup.
In 2019, Kulick traveled to Palembang, Indonesia, for the QubicaAMF World Cup and finished tied for third place. It was her first appearance at the event, and coming up just short of hoisting the coveted cup immediately got her thinking about going back for redemption.
"I've definitely thought about winning again and having a chance to go back to the World Cup, and it would be nice to come back with a little better finish than last year," Kulick said. "I'm on the right path, but I do know there's going to be some extra pressure tomorrow," Kulick said. "I think the last oil pattern might be a little higher-scoring, but I also think it plays to my strengths, so I'm feeling confident going into the last day."
Next up for the nearly 340 bowlers (175 men and 164 women) will be the 43-foot World Bowling Mexico City oil pattern.
The men will bowl their final round of qualifying Tuesday, getting underway at 11 a.m. Eastern, and the women will bowl their fifth round at 5:30 p.m. EST, all live on BowlTV.
One final thing that has helped Kulick relax on the lanes lately is trying to enjoy each experience, and not just make it all about the bowling.
"I'm going to each event hoping to take away something enjoyable," Kulick said. "Here, that means enjoying my time in Las Vegas, whether it's at Gold Coast or walking on The Strip. I think if I do that, it will overflow into my bowling each day. Overall, I'm over the moon with my performance this week. Maybe my mindset has changed so much that things are falling into place. It's also refreshing to see the other athletes and how much they seem to be enjoying the environment, and it makes me really happy to be here."
The 2020 Team USA Trials also includes the United States Amateur Bowling Championships.
After all rounds of competition, the U.S. Amateur stepladder finals and the introduction of Team USA and Junior Team USA for 2020 will broadcast live at BowlTV.com.
The top four men and top four women at the 2020 Team USA Trials, based on ranking points, will earn automatic spots on Team USA, while two additional men and two additional women will be selected by the National Selection Committee from the pool of players that competed during the week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.
The National Selection Committee also will select a maximum of five men and five women for the team based on submitted resumes. Those applicants must have been Team USA or Junior Team USA members within the last 10 years or among the top 25 in earnings during the 2019 Professional Bowlers Association Tour season or top 25 in points during the 2019 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season.
After the final qualifying round at the Team Trials, the top three amateur men and top three amateur women will advance to a stepladder final to determine the U.S. Amateur champions. Both winners will earn spots on Team USA.
With one day to go, the top three amateurs in the men's field are Crowe, Salama and Rock, who has 115 points. The top three amateur women are Clemmer, Paige Peters with 76 points and Cayla Hicks of Salem, Virginia, with 112 points.
If the U.S. Amateur champion already has earned a spot on the team, the spot will be awarded to the next-highest Team USA Trials qualifier based on ranking points.
To be eligible for this year's U.S. Amateur, a bowler must not hold or have held a professional membership (PBA or PWBA) in 2019. Also, anyone who has won a professional title (regional, national or senior) as a professional is not eligible to compete as an amateur.
For youth competitors, the top four boys and top four girls, based on ranking points, automatically will earn spots on Junior Team USA 2020. Two additional boys and two additional girls also will be selected by the National Selection Committee based on performances from either the 2020 Team USA Trials or 2019 Junior Gold Championships.
They will join the youth competitors who already earned their spots on Junior Team USA 2020 through qualifying at the 2019 Junior Gold Championships.