BY Gene Kanak
INDIANAPOLIS - After three long days of competition across multiple oil patterns, eight players remain undefeated in bracket play in the 20-and-under division at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships.
Of the four bowlers in the boys division and four in the girls division at Expo Bowl, two returning champions from the 2019 Junior Gold Championships are in position to make another run at the title through the tournament's double-elimination bracket.
Defending U20 champion Alec Keplinger of Coldwater, Michigan, and 2019 U17 winner Caroline Thesier of Mooresville, North Carolina, each won their first two matches Thursday in the two-game total-pinfall contests.
Joining Keplinger in the winners bracket are Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois; Jarin Kurashige of Mililani, Hawaii; and Tristin Davis of Woodstock, Georgia.
In the girls division, Thesier is joined by Katelyn Orisek of Yorkville, Illinois; Brooke Roberts of Port Orange, Florida; and Morgan Nunn of Oklahoma City.
Bracket play will continue Friday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern, with competition livestreamed on BowlTV.com.
Three players will emerge from bracket play to compete in the stepladder finals to determine the champion. The two finalists in the match-play bracket will bowl to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the stepladder, while the winner of the elimination bracket will be the No. 3 seed.
With the finals in each division being broadcast live on BowlTV, the top overall seed for the stepladder would have to be defeated twice in the true double-elimination format.
The championship rounds in the U20 division will be held Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
In the boys division, Crowe will take on Kurashige, while Davis battles Keplinger. In the girls bracket, the matches feature Orisek versus Nunn and Roberts going up against Thesier.
The players who emerge victorious during the next round in the winners bracket will punch their tickets to the stepladder finals.
Thesier and Keplinger both advanced to the stepladder finals in 2019 through the elimination bracket, but they have an advantage from their previous experiences. Thesier is making sure to keep her focus on the present instead of dwelling on what was or what could be.
"Being in this position again is phenomenal, but going into tomorrow, I'm trying to look at it as a new day instead of focusing on what could happen," Thesier said. "This whole week has been about patience and shot making. So, I'm still going to try to look at it as one game, one match and one shot at a time. If I can do that, it should allow me to keep making quality shots."
That is sage advice for all remaining bowlers to follow, as quality shot making will be crucial for anyone hoping to find success on the final day of U20 competition.
In addition to Thesier and Keplinger, two past Junior Gold champions still are in contention in the elimination bracket in the girls division.
Defending U20 champion Patricia Rosales of Orlando, Florida, and 2016 U15 champion Mabel Cummins of Elburn, Illinois, will return to the lanes Friday to continue their quest for a second victory at the event.
Eight earn spots on Junior Team USA
With the cut to match play being made Thursday, eight of the advancers also earned automatic spots on Junior Team USA for 2022 for finishing in the top four after 26 games in their respective divisions.
Mabel Cummins of Elburn, Illinois; Jenna Williams of Homosassa, Florida; Jordan Mundt of Arlington, Tennessee; and Thesier earned spots on the girls team. Cummins (2018-2021) and Thesier (2019) have enjoyed previous stints on Junior Team USA, while Williams and Mundt will be on the roster for the first time.
The boys team also will welome a blend of two returning players and two newcomers. Tyrell Ingalls of Loganville, Georgia, and Crowe are the veterans (2020-2021), and they will be joined by Junior Team USA rookies William Clark of Montgomery, Illinois, and Brett Lloyd of Knightdale, North Carolina.
Two additional spots on each team will be awarded at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships on Friday. The athletes who advance to the title match in each division also will join Junior Team USA in 2022.
If any of the athletes advancing to the title match already have earned a spot on Junior Team USA for 2022, the automatic bid will go to the next athlete in the standings, based on 26-game totals.