ARLINGTON, Texas - Last year, Marshall Kent of Yakima, Wash., entered the United States Bowling Congress Junior Gold Championships having never made the first cut. This year, he enters not only as the defending champion but as one of the most well-known youth bowlers in the country.
Kent's dramatic victory at the 2010 USBC Junior Gold Championships was the catalyst for a big summer and a run of success he is still enjoying today. Kent will try to successfully defend his title when the 2011 Junior Gold Championships presented by Brunswick begin in Las Vegas on Monday.
After defeating Matt Gasn of Laurel, Md., 269-265 in the final match in Indianapolis last year to win the Junior Gold title by just a handful of pins, Kent went on to win the North Pointe High School Singles Championships and sign a letter of intent to bowl collegiately for Robert Morris-Illinois.
"Putting it politely, it was a dream summer," said Kent, 18, who recently graduated from West Valley High School. "I never would have imagined it would have happened. It's one of those things you work hard for and you hope will come true, and when it actually does, it just feels unbelievable."
Kent will once again have a large field standing in his way this year, as more than 1,700 USBC Youth bowlers from across the country are expected to descend upon three of the Las Vegas area's biggest bowling centers - Sunset Station's Strike Zone, South Point Bowling Center and The Orleans Bowling Center. Last year's girls champion Brittni Hamilton of Webster, N.Y., won't be back to defend her title because of age requirements.
"I'm just going to try and keep an open mind," said Kent, who will represent Junior Team USA at the 2011 Pan American Bowling Confederation Youth Championships in the Dominican Republic immediately following the Junior Gold Championships. "I'm not going to set any expectations for myself. Whatever happens, happens. I just want to do the best I can."
Competition starts with three qualifying rounds, which requires bowlers to roll six games each day on July 11, 12 and 13. At the end of the 18 games, the field will be cut to the top 124 males and top 62 females (all ties advance) for the semifinals. Semifinal competition, which consists of two six-game blocks, will be July 14. The top 16 males and top 16 females will earn spots in the match-play finals, which will take place July 15 and consist of 16 games of match play. BOWL.com will provide free live streaming of the semifinals and finals.
The Junior Gold Championships also awards spots on Junior Team USA. The top four male and top four female finishers after match-play competition will automatically qualify for Junior Team USA 2012, and the National Selection Committee will award four at-large spots - two male, two female - from the pool of athletes that make match-play finals.
USBC Youth members who meet the average requirement (175 or higher for boys, 150 or higher for girls) can join the Junior Gold program and are then eligible to qualify for the USBC Junior Gold Championships. Visit BOWL.com/juniorgold for more information on the Junior Gold Championships and the Junior Gold program.
The Junior Gold Championships are just one of several major youth bowling events happening in the suburban Las Vegas area over the next couple weeks.
The USBC Youth Open Championships will be held at South Point Bowling Center on July 8-9 and July 14-24. The non-qualifying tournament is patterned after the USBC Open Championships and USBC Women's Championships. Youth bowlers compete in team (four players), doubles, singles and all-events.
Red Rock Lanes will host the North Pointe High School Singles Championships on July 16-17 and BOWL.com will have live coverage of the semifinals and finals on July 17.