BATON ROUGE, La. - Matt McNiel of Prior Lake, Minn., made history on the lanes at the Baton Rouge River Center this year, and now that the 2012 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships has ended its 151-day run, he can add two more titles to his growing resume.
The 27-year-old left-hander rolled a tournament-best 847 series to become the first bowler in the event's 109-year history with three 800s on the championship lanes. The effort catapulted him and Charles Vashaw of Deephaven, Minn., to the Regular Doubles title with a 1,489 total. McNiel added a 792 series in team and 563 in singles to also grab the Regular All-Events crown with a 2,202 total.
"It's an absolute relief to finally get the call," said McNiel, who is the 108th bowler in history to claim multiple titles in one year. "I had to work so hard for it this year, and to be able to now say I have three eagles is absolutely amazing. I'm so blessed to be in this position, and I'm humbled to be in the company of so many great bowlers."
McNiel entered the event as the two-year average leader (253.72), which included a 299 game and 806 series in singles in 2010 and a 300-822 performance in doubles in 2011. He is one of 31 bowlers with a 300 and 800 at the USBC Open Championships, and the perfect game he tossed in doubles this year makes him one of 24 competitors with multiple 300s.
"In 2010, it all happened so fast and didn't really hit me until I got done," said McNiel, who won Regular All-Events in 2010 with a record score of 2,326 and finished third in 2011 with 2,241. "Last year, I let it get away, and I promised myself that would never happen again. I was more conscious this time and definitely felt the pressure, especially when I was struggling in singles, but I was able to grind it out and throw good shots. This is by far the best day of my life."
Henry Teetz III of West Allis, Wis., rolled the only other 800 series of the 2012 tournament, and it earned him the Regular Singles title. The 40-year-old right-hander put together games of 232, 279 and 289 on April 1 for 800 on the nose, and he's waited more than three months to see if it was enough.
"After we returned home, I got a lot of handshakes and congratulations, but I quickly realized just how early in the tournament we bowled, which meant a lot of great bowlers still had to bowl," said Teetz, who made his 20th Open Championships appearance. "It has been a long wait, but my time as a high school baseball coach has taken my mind off of it a little bit. The past week has been the hardest, especially knowing there were some notables left, but now I can sit back and relax."
The 2012 Regular Team title also is headed back to the Badger State and into the hands of Nick Heilman and his Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 teammates of La Crosse, Wis., who nearly led wire to wire.
The group of youngsters, who have combined for just 22 tournament appearances, with nine belonging to Heilman, rolled games of 1,115, 1,165 and 1,121 for a 3,401 total on March 5 and held the top spot for four of the tournament's five months. Their companion team, Nicholas J's Pro Shop, moved into second place the same night with 3,204 and went on to finish 16th.
"To win an eagle on its own would've been beyond any of our dreams, but to have it come in a team event and with this incredible group is more than we could ever ask for," said Heilman, the veteran of the group at 29 years old. "All of us are always out there working together, practicing and trying to get better. This truly was a team effort, and to do it with these 10 people, the way we did it, was amazing."
Heilman set the pace for Nicholas J's Pro Shop 2 with a 769 series and was joined by Andy Mills (680), Trevor Yonan, who rolled a 300 game in his 2011 debut (679), Matt Mysliwiec (659) and Greg Pizl (614). Heilman added 710 in singles and 642 in doubles for a fifth-place finish in Regular All-Events with 2,121.
After a number of close calls over the years, Nick Wissinger of Clinton Township, Mich., finally can call himself a champion after leading his team to the 2012 Team All-Events title.
The 44-year-old right-hander got off to a rocky start with a 169 game, but averaged more than 247 the rest of the way to help S&B Pro Shop 1 to a 9,954 total. His 2,152 all-events effort was fourth overall, and he was joined by Dave Ewald (2,049), Bill Orlikowski (2,038), Kerry Kreft (1,900) and Mark Moore (1,815). Ewald, Kreft and Moore also claimed the 2004 Regular Team title together, while Kreft and Orlikowski are 1999 Team All-Events winners.
"This feels awesome, there's no doubt about that," said Wissinger, who made his 24th Open Championships appearance. "Honestly, I really didn't think the score would hold up, but I'm sure glad it did. I couldn't ask for a better team. It's nice to have 10 guys who are great bowlers and so dedicated on and off the lanes."
In the Classified Division, two titles were decided in the first month of the tournament.
Randy Tennant of Onida, S.D., and Tim Luken of Gettysburg, S.D., struck first and grabbed Classified Doubles glory with a 1,231 total Feb. 19, while Joel Fee of Pella, Iowa, set the bar in Classified Singles with 655 on Feb. 25.
"I've been watching every day at work," said Luken, who made his second tournament appearance. "When we were interviewed after bowling, we were in awe. We didn't know what to expect, but when we walked out that night, that's when it hit us. It's the best thing to happen to me in the sport. We've been bowling doubles for 20 years, and I told Randy that one day we would be able to put it together, and we did."
The Classified Team title belongs to Nite Owls of Madison Heights, Va., and Ed Swietek of Sarasota, Fla., is the 2012 Classified All-Events winner.
Nite Owls posted games of 971, 870 and 866 for a 2,707 total. John Sperry led the way with a 579 series and was followed by Winston Ware (578), David Dean (541), Michael Hicks (506) and team captain Leon Clark (503).
Swietek, a 56-year-old left-hander, was the last to stake his claim after shooting 602 in singles, 600 in doubles and 595 in team for a 1,797 all-events total on June 15.
"I'm speechless," Swietek said. "I tried not to check the standings every day. This was my 14th year, and I guess I never thought anything like this would happen. I started to bowl with the guys just to experience it. This is the best total I've had for nine games ever at the tournament. My mother passed away a couple of years ago, and I wish she was here to share it with me. Everything just seemed to work this year, and I was able to be consistent. I'm really proud and excited."
The 2012 Open Championships kicked off Feb. 11 and lasted a near-record 151 days, concluding July 10. During that time, nearly 12,000 five-player teams (more than 60,000 bowlers) made their way to the Baton Rouge River Center, which also hosted the tournament in 2005. Only the 2009 event in Las Vegas was longer at 154 days.
This year's event featured 19 300 games, six 299s, five 298s and two 800 series. Another 20 bowlers recorded 11 strikes in a row.
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.