By Gene Kanak
INDIANAPOLIS - Many of the country's best young bowlers took to the lanes Tuesday at Expo Bowl and Western Bowl as qualifying got underway in the 20-and-under division at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships.
Competition in the U20 division kicked off with two four-game blocks Tuesday, with girls competing at Expo Bowl and boys at Western Bowl. Qualifying will consist of 16 total games over two days to determine the bowlers advancing to the next round.
Jenna Williams of Homosassa, Florida (pictured above), sits atop the leaderboard in the girls division after two rounds, finishing with an eight-game total of 1,733, a 216.63 average, to build a lead of 120 pins over her closest competition.
Ashley Morrow of Valrico, Florida, sits in second with a 1,613 total, while 2019 U17 champion Caroline Thesier of Mooresville, North Carolina, knocked down 1,600 pins to grab third. Brynna Madison of Lincoln, Nebraska (1,597), and Morgan Nunn of Oklahoma City (1,595) sit in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
For Williams, Tuesday's opening-day success was a welcomed change of pace. Although the 20-year-old has earned her share of accolades, including being recognized as a 2020-2021 National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association honorable mention All-American at Mount Mercy University, success at Junior Gold hasn't always been easy to come by.
"My past Junior Golds haven't always been the best," said Williams, who rolled sets of 879 in Round 1 and 854 in Round 2. "I think this is my fourth year, and my highest finish was making the top 64. I've definitely never led or anything like that, so this is all new. I'm very grateful for where I'm at."
Similar sentiments were echoed by Kai Yamada of Kaneohe, Hawaii, who led the boys division after two rounds with a 1,825 total, a 228.13 average.
Junior Team USA member Tyrell Ingalls of Loganville, Georgia, sits in second place with 1,793, and Jace Goedel of St. Francis, Minnesota, is third with 1,702. Team USA and Junior Team USA member Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois, is fourth with 1,697, and Nicholas Luther of Coopersville, Michigan, rounds out the top five with 1,664.
Yamada, 20, has not made a cut in his previous appearances at the Junior Gold Championships. After rolling scores of 893 in Round 1 and 932 in Round 2, he isn't looking ahead or taking anything for granted as he prepares for Wednesday's final eight games of qualifying.
"It's great to be leading; it's a step in the right direction," Yamada said. "Still, I'm more focused on staying in my game plan and executing as well as possible. I need to keep my head together and not let my energy get too high or too low. I'm not a big fan of looking at the standings, so I need to stay hungry and find a way to bowl better tomorrow."
All bowlers in the U20 division will return Wednesday morning, starting at 7 a.m. Eastern, for two additional four-game qualifying blocks. After the conclusion of qualifying, the top 85 boys and top 40 girls will advance to the next round.
Advancers will bowl an additional five games Thursday, before a second cut is made, and a final five-game block will determine the 16 athletes in each division advancing to the double-elimination match-play bracket.
Bracket matches will consist of two games, with total pinfall determining the winner. 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.com, 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 July 9 at 1 p.m. Eastern.
St. Louis bowler uses perfect game to bolster personal best opening-day effort
Despite being a very accomplished bowler, Jeremy Kinealy of St. Louis had never had much to write home about when it came to his performances at the Junior Gold Championships.
That changed in a big way during Tuesday's opening round at Western Bowl, when the 19-year-old stepped up and recorded the first 300 game of this year's event.
"I was fortunate on the 11th shot," Kinealy said. "Once I got that one, I felt pretty confident that I would get the last one. I've never really bowled well at Junior Gold, so it was nice to get the 300. Still, the story is yet to be written because I don't know yet how much impact that game will have on my overall standing in the tournament."
Kinealy's 300 came in the final game of Round 1 to give him an 869 total, which placed him in eighth after four games. He followed it up with 789 in Round 2 to finish the day in seventh place with 1,658, giving him his best opening-day position of his Junior Gold career.
"It feels incredible to be in the Top 10 after Day 1," Kinealy said. "Now, I don't feel like I have to press to stay relevant in the tournament or shoot 240 every game to stay inside the number. It's a feeling that I haven't gotten to have a whole lot at Junior Gold, so it's a good feeling."
Watch Kinealy's final frame here.
Junior Team USA's Cummins grateful Junior Gold is back
At just 19 years old, Mabel Cummins' outstanding bowling talent has afforded her experiences and opportunities that most bowlers won't match in a lifetime.
As a member of Junior Team USA and the women's bowling team at Vanderbilt University, Cummins has traveled to places and bowled in tournaments that most in the sport can only dream of.
Nevertheless, the Junior Gold Championships has always stood out on Cummins' list of most treasured tournaments. When last year's event was canceled due to COVID-19, Cummins, like countless other young men and women across the country, was heartbroken.
Thankfully, last year's tournament was not her last opportunity to bowl Junior Gold, so the Elburn, Illinois, native was plenty happy to get back on the tournament lanes when competition resumed Tuesday.
"Being back here is incredible, because there really isn't another event like Junior Gold," said Cummins, a four-time member of Junior Team USA. "Getting to compete against my peers and see my friends from the East and West Coast that I don't get to see very often is really special for me. I would've been really sad if last year had been my last year. I'm grateful that I'm young enough to have a few more years of eligibility left for Junior Gold."
Cummins, who won the U15 title at the 2016 event, also in Indianapolis, sits in sixth place after the first two rounds of qualifying with a 1,586 total. For her, however, this tournament is about much more than the final standings.
"I love this tournament because I love to compete; I love bowling," Cummins said. "But it's more than that. You know there are always going to be challenging patterns at Junior Gold, which is a plus. Also, this tournament gives me the opportunity to connect with people. My focus is just to have fun and to make the most out of this awesome opportunity to compete."