LAS VEGAS - Following a lengthy hiatus due to COVID-19, international bowling competition recently resumed, and the Team USA program returned to action for a handful of successful events on two continents.
For some players, the excitement and momentum from those trips carried over to the 2022 United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials, where they battled over five days to retain their spots on the Team USA roster.
Others arrived at the Gold Coast Bowling Center this week looking for the opportunity to make the team in the new year and help be a part of the squad's success in 2022.
The top overall performers across 30 games and five challenging oil patterns were Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, and Darren Tang of Las Vegas. They bested their respective fields of 125 women and 161 men.
Two other competitors - Chloe Skurzynski of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Trent Mitchell of Chicago - also claimed titles Friday as the nation's best non-professionals. The U.S. National Amateur Bowling Championships was contested simultaneously using the same qualifying scores.
Skurzynski and Mitchell each survived a stepladder final that included the top three players from their divisions. The action unfolded live on BowlTV.
All four champions were among the 10 competitors who earned automatic berths on Team USA for 2022 based on their success this week in Las Vegas.
Players earned points based on where they finished in the daily standings. The leader each day received one point, second place earned two points and so on, with the lowest number of ranking points after the five six-game blocks determining the 2022 Team Trials champions.
Pluhowsky's win was her third at the event since the inaugural edition in 2008. She also won in 2011 and 2015, to go along with victories at the U.S. National Amateur Bowling Championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004. The events are one in the same, but there was a rebranding when professionals first became eligible for Team USA.
The 39-year-old left-hander was dominant over the five rounds, turning in finishes of third, tied for second, tied for second, 12th and tied for third for 22 ranking points, the second-lowest total on record, behind longtime Team USA member Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, who won the 2020 tournament with 13 points.
Pluhowsky was followed in the overall standings by Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (57), Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (61), and reigning Professional Women's Bowling Association Player of the Year Bryanna Cot‚ of Tucson, Arizona (77). All three earned automatic spots on the team.
This marks Pluhowsky's 22nd consecutive appearance on Team USA. She also was a four-time member of Junior Team USA.
"It's still crazy to think it has been 22 years, which is more than half my life," Pluhowsky said. "I'm excited. It has been a while since I've won Trials, and this one is a little different and unique because you have to bowl well for five days on different patterns. That makes it harder to win. To go out and earn my spot this way is special. Getting picked to be on the team is awesome, but this is incredibly rewarding. I'm riding a high right now, and things are just going really good."
Tang is returning to Team USA for the first time since 2019, but he's a much different competitor than he was when he finished fifth at the 2019 Team USA Trials and then 12th in 2020 to miss making the team again.
He knew the overall standings were pretty tight Friday, but he had no idea he and 2021 Professional Bowlers Association Player of the Year Kyle Troup of Taylorsville, North Carolina, actually were tied with 80 points going into the final game.
Tang, a 28-year-old right-hander, makes it a point to not look at the scores while he's bowling, simply choosing to focus on each shot and the things he can control, and his mental strength and clarity on the lanes. He makes sure to spend time working on his mental game, and it paid off Friday.
As he has moved through the ranks of bowling, from youth competition to adult leagues and tournaments to PBA regional events to the PBA Tour, he has been able to get comfortable at each level by remembering the things that got him there and realizing that it's all just bowling, which doesn't change.
The men's title ultimately came down to who made the bigger move in the final game, and Tang nearly was flawless in the effort. He fired a 279 game to surge from 24th place to 11th in the Day 5 standings. Troup closed with 224 and remained 12th on the day to finish as the runner-up.
Tang, who won his first PBA Tour title in August, topped the standings with 67 points. Troup, the 2018 Team Trials winner, finished with 80 points and also earned an automatic spot on Team USA for 2022.
Two other bowlers - Nick Pate of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota (94), and AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois (108) - were able to retain their spots on the team by also finishing in the top four this week.
"There's still pressure, but I don't think I felt it as much," Tang said. "My mindset is to just enjoy the moment, and that has become consistent since I won my first (Professional Bowlers Association Tour) title. I figure, the more I enjoy it, the better I'm going to play, and the less pressure I'm going to feel. I'm really happy I got it done and ecstatic to be back on Team USA."
To claim the men's U.S. Amateur title, Mitchell rolled a clean game and tossed a clutch 10th-frame strike on the lane that had been giving him trouble throughout the match. He topped Nathan Stubler of LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, 218-199.
Stubler, a left-hander and member of Junior Team USA in 2019, failed to convert the 3-9 combination in the fifth frame and a 6-8 split in the ninth frame, to fall short. Mitchell struck on the right lane in the ninth frame and on the first shot of his 10th frame on the left lane to lock up the title.
During the final, Mitchell continued to make moves on the left lane, which he felt was tighter. When it came down to throwing the shot that would make his dream come true, there wasn't really a calculated move. Just belief in his ability to throw a good shot when he needed it.
The 27-year-old right-hander defeated local standout and past Junior Team USA member Dallas Leong, 258-244, in the opening match of the men's stepladder to set up the meeting with Stubler, the top seed.
"This feels absolutely amazing, even though it really hasn't had a chance to sink in," Mitchell said. "I'm happy with myself because I accomplished a goal of mine. That means all the struggles and trials and tribulations I went through to get here were worth it. I got discouraged a lot along the way but kept faith and kept pushing. The fact that I was able to put in the work and make it here makes me incredibly proud."
Skurzynski, a 21-year-old right-hander, also found herself in a tight title match that came down to the final frame. She defeated Danielle Jedlicki of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 184-179.
After leaving, and failing to convert, a 4-7-9 split in the ninth frame, Jedlicki filled her final frame to put pressure on Skurzynski, who could seal the win with good count. Instead, she left the 3-6-9-10 combination to create some drama, before taking down three of the remaining pins for the win.
Jedlicki earned her spot in the finale with a nail-biting 206-202 win over former Junior Team USA member Ashley Rucker of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Rucker had an opportunity to double in her final frame for the win, but she left a 3 pin on her first offering.
"I've looked up to so many of these players since I started bowling, and I never pictured myself in a place where I'd be shoulder to shoulder with them and wearing this Team USA jacket," said Skurzynski, who finished fifth overall this week and was the top seed for the stepladder. "I'm most looking forward to the experience of all the practicing and all the knowledge I know I'm going to gain bowling alongside the best bowlers in the world."
To be eligible for the U.S. Amateur, a bowler must not hold or have held a professional membership (PBA or PWBA) in 2021. Also, anyone who has won a professional title (regional, national or senior) as a professional was not eligible to compete as an amateur.
In addition to those who automatically qualified for this year's adult team, two men and two women were selected by the National Selection Committee based on their performances this week.
Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, and Jake Peters of Henderson, Nevada, will join the men's team, and Lauren Pate of Manchester, Missouri, and Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina, were added to the women's roster.
The National Selection Committee also selected five men and five women to join Team USA 2022, based on submitted resumes.
Marshall Kent of Las Vegas; Kristopher Prather of Romeoville, Illinois; Matthew Russo of Ballwin, Missouri; EJ Tackett of Bluffton, Indiana; and Chris Via of Blacklick, Ohio, were selected by the National Selection Committee to join the men's team.
Additions to the women's team were Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas; Danielle McEwan of Story Point, New York; Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California; Jordan Richard of Maumee, Ohio; and Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California.
Bowlers now must be at least 18 years old as of the end of the Team USA Trials to be eligible for the adult version of Team USA.
Age-eligible participants competing this week also were vying for spots on Junior Team USA 2022.
Earning automatic spots on the boys team based on their overall performances were Anthony Neuer of Milton, Pennsylvania; Julian Salinas of Richmond, Texas; Ryan Barnes of Denton, Texas; and Carter Street of Dublin, Ohio.
T.J. Rock of Las Vegas and William Jones of Anoka, Minnesota, were chosen by the National Selection Committee to join Junior Team USA 2022 based on their performances at the 2022 Team USA Trials and 2021 Junior Gold Championships.
They join the 12 boys who qualified for Junior Team USA through the 2021 Junior Gold Championships through the U20 and U18 competitions.
U20 - Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois; Alec Keplinger of Coldwater, Michigan; Michael Marmolejo of Fullerton, California; Tyrell Ingalls of Loganville, Georgia; William Clark of Montgomery, Illinois; and Brett Lloyd of Knightdale, North Carolina.
U18 - Brandon Bohn of Jackson, New Jersey; Jordan Malott of Austin, Texas; Zach Greim of Poway, California; Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri; Brandon Bonta of Wichita, Kansas; and Solomon Salama of Beverly Hills, California.
The automatic spots on the girls team Friday went to Jedlicki, Ashtyn Woods of Santa Rosa, California; Paige Peters of Toms River, New Jersey; and Jennifer Loredo of Clovis, California.
Alyssa Ballard of Keller, Texas, and Saralyne Nassberg of Lodi, California, were selected for the girls team based on performance.
They join the 12 girls who qualified for Junior Team USA through the 2021 Junior Gold Championships through the U20 and U18 competitions.
U20 - Brooke Roberts of Port Orange, Florida; Morgan Nunn of Oklahoma City; Mabel Cummins of Hermitage, Tennessee; Jenna Williams of Homosassa, Florida; Caroline Thesier of Mooresville, North Carolina; and Jordan Mundt of Arlington, Tennessee.
U18 - Jaelle Hamman of Jarrell, Texas; Victoria Varano of Stony Point, New York; Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio; Amanda Naujokas of Ronkonkoma, New York; Annalise OBryant of Ball Ground, Georgia; and Lyndsay Ennis of Conway, South Carolina.
Four boys and four girls from the U15 competition at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships also will be part of the Team USA experience in 2022 as members of the Developmental Team.
The list includes Landin Jordan of Sycamore, Illinois; Trevor Ashby of Rawlings, Maryland; Ethan Caruso of Channahon, Illinois; Keegan Alexander of Killeen, Texas; Savannah Taillon of Concord, North Carolina; Kayla Starr of Crofton, Maryland; Katelyn Abigania of San Diego and Erin Klemencic of Powder Springs, Georgia.
Bowlers age 20 or younger as of Jan. 1, 2022, were eligible for spots on Junior Team USA this week.
All 286 competitors at the 2022 Team USA Trials bowled 30 games over five days (six games each day). Each day featured a different lane condition, ranging from 36-45 feet, with different volumes of oil for the women and men.
BowlTV (BowlTV.com) provided wire-to-wire coverage of the events, including the announcement of Team USA and Junior Team USA 2022.
Visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA for more information about the Team USA program.
2022 USBC Team USA Trials
At Gold Coast Bowling Center
(Position, name, hometown, total points. Points based on finishing position in each round).
1, Darren Tang, Las Vegas, 67
2, Kyle Troup, Taylorsville, N.C., 80
3, Nick Pate, Inver Grove Heights, Minn., 94
4, AJ Johnson, Oswego, Ill., 108
5, Nathan Stubler, LaSalle-Peru, Ill., 118
6, Trent Mitchell, Chicago, 139
7, Jake Peters, Henderson, Nev., 143
8, Jakob Butturff, Tempe, Ariz., 157
9, Dallas Leong, Las Vegas, 159
10, Daniel Chin, Daly City, Calif., 160
T11, Matthew Russo, Ballwin, Mo., 163
T11, Briley Haugh, Faribault, Minn., 163
13, John Janawicz, Winter Haven, Fla., 167
14, Kristopher Prather, Romeoville, Ill., 173
15, Anthony Neuer, Milton, Pa., 182
16, Cameron Crowe, Orland Park, Ill., 183
17, Julian Salinas, Richmond, Texas, 184
18, Ryan Barnes, Denton, Texas, 193
19, Carter Street, Dublin, Ohio, 195
20, William Jones, Anoka, Minn., 200
1, Shannon Pluhowsky, Dayton, Ohio, 22
2, Julia Bond, Aurora, Ill., 57
3, Shannon O'Keefe, Shiloh, Ill., 61
4, Bryanna Cot‚, Tucson, Ariz., 77
5, Chloe Skurzynski, Carlisle, Pa., 93
6, Lauren Pate, Manchester, Mo., 95
7, Ashley Rucker, Bartlesville, Okla., 97
8, Breanna Clemmer, Clover, S.C., 102
9, Danielle Jedlicki, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 121
10, Mabel Cummins, Hermitage, Tenn., 129
11, Hope Gramly, Aubrey, Texas, 132
12, Brooke Roberts, Port Orange, Fla., 142
T13, Maryssa Carey, Hobart, Ind., 148
T13, Caroline Thesier, Mooresville, N.C., 148
T15, Olivia Farwell, Elizabethtown, Pa., 149
T15, Taylor Bailey, Jonesboro, Ark., 149
17, Ashtyn Woods, Santa Rosa, Calif., 156
18, Paige Peters, Toms River, N.J., 168
19, Sydney Brummett, Fort Wayne, Ind., 175
20, Jennifer Loredo, Clovis, Calif., 176
U.S. AMATEUR STEPLADDER FINALS
Trent Mitchell, Chicago, def. Dallas Leong, Las Vegas, 258-244.
Mitchell def. Nathan Stubler, LaSalle-Peru, Ill., 218-199.
Danielle Jedlicki, Murfreesboro, Tenn., def. Ashley Rucker, Bartlesville, Okla., 206-202.
Chloe Skurzynski, Carlisle, Pa., def. Jedlicki, 184-179.