DALLAS - The four teams for the televised finals of the 2018 USA Bowling National Championships presented by Sixlets are set, and five of the bowlers among the remaining 18 competitors are looking for a second consecutive title.
The event includes two divisions - 12-and-under and 15-and-under - each with its own TV show, and there is the potential for repeat champions in both divisions.
The shows will be taped Saturday for delayed broadcast on CBS Sports Network. This year's U12 show from the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas, will air Aug. 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern, and the U15 finals will run Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. Eastern.
The U12 teams advancing to the title match are Four the Love of Boba from the Pacific Southwest and Vegas Incredibowls from the Southwest. The U15 finale will feature defending champion 3 Rights Make A Left from the Midwest against THE Ohio Storm, representing the Lower Great Lakes.
Qualifying at the 2018 USA Bowling National Championships took place Wednesday at AMF Garland Lanes, and the double-elimination portion of the event was contested Thursday at nearby USA Bowl. Bracket matches were contested in a best-of-three Baker format.
Four the Love of Boba includes two members of the Cloverleaf Strikers team that won the U12 title in the Cleveland area in 2017, and the group earned the top seed for Thursday's match-play competition. A second-round loss quickly sent the quartet to the elimination bracket, where they rallied with five consecutive victories on the way to a 6-1 record.
Two members of last year's winning team aged out of the U12 category, so reigning champions Nihal Mareedu and Diego Jara will be joined under the bright lights by Saphyre Nofuente and Ethan Ranario. Head coach Chris Nofuente also is new to the team in 2018.
Throughout qualifying and match play, Nofuente experimented with different lineups to see what worked best, and he found the right combination late in the day Thursday at USA Bowl.
"It's great to represent our area and a great organization like the NorCal All-Stars, and even though they're all from different cities, they've been able to form friendships and were very comfortable together on the lanes," Chris Nofuente said. "Our energy was a little low early today, but we brought it back up, got the crowd into it and really fed off that."
The Southwest squad is led by former Junior Team USA member, collegiate national champion and Professional Bowlers Association Tour winner Jake Peters, with help from United States Bowling Congress Open Championships titlist Adam Ishman.
The group was strong in match play, earning three wins to start the day, before meeting a talented Southeast team in the bracket final.
The undefeated Vegas Incredibowls would've needed to be beaten twice to be eliminated by the Southeast Pin Crushers, but after falling 2-0, Peters and Ishman rallied their team for a 2-0 victory of their own and a spot on CBS Sports Network.
"We work with these bowlers back in Las Vegas, and to see them learn and grow is amazing," Peters said. "This program is so much fun, and the chance to be on television bowling for a national championship at 12 years old really was the drive for us from the start. Being able to share from the experiences, opportunities and wins we've had means a lot. My advice is just to have fun. The environment is so different, and it goes fast, so just enjoy it, because you don't know if you'll get the chance again."
The Vegas Incredibowls roster includes Christopher Faro, Sebastian Huffman, Tyler Hedges and Daryus Alo.
Three members of 3 Rights Make A Left are getting another chance to win a national title on TV, and Brandon Bonta, Spencer Robarge and Silas Limes will put their U15 title on the line with help from newcomer Piper Reams.
The path back to TV included a 4-0 record at USA Bowl and was highlighted by great teamwork, camaraderie, communication and top-notch coaching from Kelly Bonta and PBA Hall of Famer Chris Barnes.
"All along, I just wanted to stay positive and confident and remember that it's a team effort," Piper Reams said. "They're all awesome bowlers, and just to be asked to join the team was awesome. We get along well, we talk and we laugh, so it's really comfortable."
The defending champions will meet a motivated Lower Great Lakes team that lost its first match Thursday and then rattled off six consecutive victories, including back-to-back wins against the undefeated The Thunder from the Coastal South, to lock up a spot in the final.
THE Ohio Storm squad returns all five players from a successful 2017 USA Bowling run, plus one additional player for good measure. The roster includes Ryan Hanzak, Kyle Hanzak, Angelo Biondo, Nolan Blessing, Jillian Martin and Kaylee Hitt.
"After losing the first match, in which we got off to a good start, we didn't want to forget that we do have a talented and capable team, so we gave it our best and won the next match," Lower Great Lakes head coach Mark Blessing said. "Then, we won another. And another. We started having fun and were very relaxed out there. By the time we got to the last match, everyone was feeling good, we were talking and we just went with the momentum. Just making the show is a dream come true, and we're going to enjoy every minute of it."
The event's finals will take place Saturday at the ITRC, the home of Team USA and Junior Team USA, and will be televised on CBS Sports Network for the third consecutive year. The title matches will have a best-of-five Baker format to crown this year's national champions.
All rounds of qualifying and match play leading up to the televised finals were broadcast on BowlTV.
The 30 teams competing in the Dallas area this week all earned their spots at the national event by winning one of the regional tournaments held across the country throughout the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.
The USA Bowling program was designed as a team-based youth program to introduce competitors to the sport, and it follows the same structure as other youth sports. It places children on a team, provides a coach for each team and conducts regular practices, along with weekly competitions.
The program was introduced at the regional level in 2013 and grew to include the first USA Bowling National Championships in Indianapolis in 2016.
USA Bowling is a product of the Youth Education Services (YES) Fund, a joint initiative of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America and the United States Bowling Congress, supported by top bowling brands, including Bowling.com, Brunswick, Columbia 300, Ebonite, Hammer, QubicaAMF, Roto Grip, Storm and Track.
In addition to the USA Bowling National Championships, the Junior Gold Championships presented by the Brands of Ebonite International and the Bowling.com Youth Open Championships also are taking place in the Dallas area.
For more information on the USA Bowling National Championships, Junior Gold Championships or Youth Open Championships, visit BOWL.com.