Defending champions lead Team All-Events at 2016 USBC Open

RENO, Nev. - The members of Junior Team USA Support 1 of Eagan, Minnesota, entered the 2016 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships as defending champions, something they've experienced each year since 2014, and some logical questions surrounded their appearance at the National Bowling Stadium this weekend.

Could they become the first team since powerhouse Lodge Lanes in 1998 to successfully defend a Team All-Events title? If they were able to claim a third win in four years, should the word dynasty enter the conversation? Could team member Anthony LaCaze, the 2014 Regular All-Events champion, become the first bowler in USBC Open Championships history to win a title in four consecutive tournaments?

Two days and nine games later, Junior Team USA Support 1 is back on top of the Team All-Events standings with a 9,672 total, well short of the team's 10,131 average the last three years, but a performance team captain Erik Vermilyea is especially proud of.

"With as hard as they were in team, and how things started today, I'm really happy with how we grinded and how things turned out," said Vermilyea, who made his 12th Open Championships appearance and was able to maintain his 222 tournament average. "When it's going well, it's easy to put something together. This year, we really worked at it, and I'm proud of how we fought through it and still put up a decent number."

The team grinded through doubles with a 202.6 average and then performed under pressure, averaging more than 231 in singles to move past previous Team All-Events leader, Wickliffe Lanes of Mentor, Ohio, which topped the standings with 9,598.

JuniorTeamUSASupport1ForWeb2016OC465x262Junior Team USA Support 1's latest effort at the NBS also has brought up a new question - is it enough?

"It's always special taking the lead because of the history and prestige here, whether you bowl the first weekend or late in the event, and we're excited to be in that position again," Vermilyea said. "I'd love to tell you it's enough, but I honestly don't think it is. There's too many good teams coming, and even more talented teams being put together. The bar will continue to get higher, and it will get harder and harder to win each year."

Steve Novak led the way for Junior Team USA Support 1 this year with a 2,019 all-events total and was followed by Vermilyea (1,988), Matthew Tuckfield (1,961), LaCaze (1,942) and left-hander Jeffrey Mersch (1,762).

The group, which finished second in the team event last year, also made a run at the lead in Regular Team on Saturday, before unfortunate final-game carry left them in third place with a 3,167 total on games of 1,069, 1,087 and 1,011. Who's Eddie Byrd? of Fort Worth, Texas, leads with 3,241.

Now, the waiting game begins for Vermilyea and company, who first found themselves in this position in 2010, when Vermilyea and Mersch left with the lead in Regular Doubles. Their 1,500 total would've won in most years, but they ended up 14 pins short when the tournament concluded in July.

That experience taught them a lot about the event and the process and has made them mentally stronger overall. It also made the leaderboard watch in 2013, 2014 and 2015 a little less stressful because they realized worrying and obsessing wasn't going to change the outcome. They put up the best numbers they could, and they'd enjoy the experience and emotions, whether it lasted a day, or until the last ball was thrown.

Regardless of how things turn out in 2016, the old Chicago Cubs mantra rings true for Junior Team USA Support 1 - there's always next year.

"Going back to 2010 when we took the lead, so many things had to go right for us to be in a position to win even once, and not winning was heartbreaking because we thought that could be our one real chance," Vermilyea said. "We've been fortunate to be able to put together a group that not only includes talented players, but great friends who really gel and work well together. We definitely feel like we can contend every year, and even if we don't win this one, it makes us look forward to next year that much more."

Vermilyea did say the moment in time everything clicked for the team was their third game of the 2012 team event, a 1,220 effort that marked when everything fell into place. They've been on the same page every game since.

The current streak includes Team All-Events titles in 2013 and 2015 and a Regular All-Events win for LaCaze in 2014. Junior Team USA Support 1 also was second in Regular Team in 2013 and 2015 and 10th in Team All-Events in 2014. USBC Hall of Famer Les Zikes of Palatine, Illinois, is the only other bowler in 113 years of tournament history to win titles in three consecutive years, doing so in 1962, 1963 and 1964.

Also at the NBS on Sunday, while the Team All-Events drama was unfolding live on BowlTV, Camden Rokita of Springfield, Illinois, was a few lanes away making a run at the second 800 series of the 2016 Open Championships.

Three strikes in his final frame would've given him 801, but an uncooperative 7 pin on his first shot left him with a 779 singles series and 2,055 all-events total, both good for third place overall. Robert J. Bures of Painesville, Ohio, a member of Wickliffe Lanes, leads Regular Singles and Regular All-Events with 815 and 2,122, respectively.

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