DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Despite making up nearly a third of the field for the singles quarterfinals at the 2021 International Bowling Federation Super World Championships, the United States will not be represented in the medal round later this week.
Team USA competed in five of the eight quarterfinal matches Wednesday at the Dubai International Bowling Centre - three on the women's side and two on the men's side - and the ideal scenario happened where none of the teammates had to bowl each other.
That's where the good fortune ended for head coach Bryan O'Keefe and his hopeful quintet of competitors.
In the team's five quarterfinal matches, Team USA's opponents averaged more than 261, with a high game of 288 and a low game of 228. Team USA averaged 217.4 and did not have a game over 230.
"In four out of the five matches, we had the front five thrown at us, and anytime that happens, you're immediately playing from behind," O'Keefe said. "In two of them, we started with four strikes, too, but when you can't miss, it becomes a unique situation. It definitely wasn't something I've ever experienced before. The only way to combat that is to strike more, and we simply weren't able to tonight."
With the United States absent from the agenda, the semifinals now will feature seven countries across the four matches, which are scheduled to take place Friday, beginning at 6 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern).
The women's semifinal matches will take place first, followed by the men. The finals will take place in the same order.
It is expected that the medal rounds at the 2021 IBF Super World Championships (singles, doubles, trios, team and mixed team) will be contested in a specially constructed venue, potentially outdoors, though specifics have not yet been provided by IBF.
The women's matchups will include Canada's Sarah Klassen against Cherie Tan of Singapore and Singapore's Shayna Ng taking on Sofia Rodriguez of Guatemala.
The men's matches will feature Sweden's James Blomgren against Italy's Nicola Pongolini and Korea's Ji Geun taking on Tomas Kayhko of Finland.
Kayhko started the day with a roll-off win against Singapore's Jonovan Neo, 244-205, after the two were tied for 32nd place after 10 games of qualifying.
All 133 men and 92 women bowled 10 games over two days - five games on Saturday and five games on Monday - before the respective fields were cut to the top 32 for round-robin match play.
The advancing players were divided into four groups, each with eight competitors, and they all bowled seven games of round-robin match play Wednesday.
Points were awarded for each win in match play, and the top two bowlers in each group, based on points, advanced to the bracket-style quarterfinals.
Seven of the eight Team USA members in Dubai qualified for match play, and getting five to advance further didn't come without excitement and drama.
Kelly Kulick, Missy Parkin and Danielle McEwan all earned enough points in match play to claim their spots in the quarterfinals outright.
After the seven games, tournament first-timer Kristopher Prather found himself in a three-way tie for the lead in his group, which meant a one-game roll-off, with the two spots on the line.
Finland's Niko Oksanen led the way with a 257 game, Prather followed with 213 and Jan Macek of the Czech Republic shot 194 to fall short.
Nearby, Team USA's AJ Johnson also landed in a three-way tie, but it was for the second spot in his pod, which meant three bowlers competing for it in a one-game roll-off.
Johnson stepped up in his final frame needing to record a strike and nine-spare to earn the spot. He got the strike, but an eight-count on his second offering meant he'd need the spare for a 231 tie with Guatemala's Diego Aguilar.
After Johnson converted the spare, the two moved on to a ninth- and 10th-frame roll-off, from which Johnson escaped, 60-24.
Jordan Richard, who was in the same group with Kulick and Parkin, finished just behind them in points and was eliminated. Jakob Butturff and Prather competed in the same group, and Butturff finished seventh.
The quarterfinal matches for Team USA, however, didn't leave much room for drama, as most were relatively lopsided.
Kulick, who averaged nearly 248 in qualifying and was the overall leader after 10 games, fell to Klassen in the quarterfinals, 228-219. McEwan lost to Tan (254-211) and Parkin was defeated by Rodriguez (257-229). In the last women's match, Ng defeated Malaysia's Natasha Roslan (258-236).
Prather was on the receiving end of a near-perfect effort from Blomgren, who opened the match with 10 consecutive strikes and cruised to a 288-215 victory. Pongolini fired 11 strikes in a 279-213 win over Johnson.
In the other men's matches, Kayhko topped Oksanen 228-200, and Ji ended the title defense for 2018 singles champion Rafiq Ismail of Malaysia, 255-224.
McEwan entered the event as the defending champion for the women, and she initially benefitted from the new format. She finished qualifying in a tie for 23rd place and knew she'd have an opportunity to gain some momentum when all pinfall dropped for match play.
When she won at the 2019 World Women's Championships in Las Vegas, the top four after six games of qualifying advanced to the bracket-style semifinals.
"Today actually was a really good day that just ended up finishing on a really horrible note as a team," McEwan said. "We're figuring out the lanes and learning more each day. We're finding ways to carry better and communicating well, and that's all going to help us moving forward."
Next up for the bowlers at the Super World Championships is a full day of trios competition. Everyone will bowl 10 qualifying games, before the field is cut to the top 16 teams in each gender classification.
The championship round for doubles is scheduled for Saturday, trios will conclude Sunday and both team and mixed team will wrap up Monday. All three will feature variations of the Baker format from start to finish.
In Baker competition, the team members each bowl in designated frames to complete to complete a single game.
Additional medals will be awarded to the most valuable athletes and top-performing federations.
The IBF Super World Championships is the first of three events being held in Dubai, concluding Nov. 15. It will be joined by the inaugural IBF Para Bowling World Championships and followed by the IBF Masters (formerly Senior) World Championships.
IBF is providing livestream coverage and complete results at StrikeCloud.com.
For more information about IBF, visit bowling.sport.