Leaders emerge in three events at 2017 USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Three first-time bowlers had unforgettable debuts at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships as they found their way to the top of the leaderboard Sunday at the South Point Bowling Plaza.

Robert Leser of Fenton, Michigan, teamed with Darin Craine of Burton, Michigan, to raise the bar in Regular Doubles with a 1,342 total, and minutes later, Cody Maier and James Medina of Spring Creek, Nevada, slipped into the top spot in Standard Doubles with 1,180.

Maier's success continued in singles, as a big middle game helped catapult him into the lead in Classified All-Events with a 1,686 total.

Leser and Craine were the seventh duo to crack the top 10 this week in Regular Doubles, and halfway through their final game, it looked like they would soar past previous leaders Nick Pate of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, and Casey Maxted of Gillette, Wyoming, who shot 1,336 on Friday.

"We had a plan coming in, and that was to play the gutter with some surface, and it lasted just long enough," said Leser, a 26-year-old right-hander. "We started to get caught in the transition, but making a 15-board move left with a couple frames left didn't make sense. We decided to just grind it out and hopefully leave makeable spares, if anything."

Craine, the only new leader with Open Championships experience, made his fifth tournament appearance and led the way with games of 254, 215 and 221 for a 690 series. He converted a 6 pin in his final frame and struck on the fill ball to secure the lead.

Leser added games of 203, 259 and 190 for a 652 set.

"Toward the end, I knew I at least needed to spare everything, but I didn't know exactly where we sat at that point," said Craine, a 31-year-old right-hander. "I was pretty nervous in the 10th frame for sure, but I knew if I threw a decent shot, we'd be OK. I didn't, but I got a good break, and we got enough. It feels super good to be the leaders."

While Leser actually did see the leaderboard and knew what Craine needed, neither Maier, nor Medina, had any idea they were striking their way into the spotlight on the biggest stage in bowling.MaierCodyMedinaJames2017OCForWeb250x140

"This really is awesome," said Maier, a 27-year-old left-hander. "We really weren't thinking anything about it. We come from a small town and just wanted to come bowl, have a good time and see Las Vegas, and that decision paid off."

Maier and Medina, a 24-year-old left-hander, bowled together previously in the youth ranks, but as they transitioned into real life, they both stepped away from the sport, only to recently return.

Returning to the lanes after their hiatuses came with some challenges, including working on accuracy and consistency, and updating their equipment. Maier even added a ball to his arsenal on-site at the South Point Bowling Plaza and found immediate success.

Maier led the doubles effort with a 619 series, a career-high, while Medina added 561. The two passed Jeff Kusnerick and Duane Kruger of Streator, Illinois, who previously shared the Standard Doubles lead with Jeffrey Schwebke of McHenry, Illinois, and Robert Dinger of Volo, Illinois, at 1,174.

"We just came out to bowl, and we didn't know any of the scores we needed to beat," said Medina, who bowls with Maier at Telescope Lanes in Elko, Nevada. "Our goal today was to just bowl better than we did in the team event. Taking the lead definitely is exciting, especially with all the great bowlers who have come through or will come bowl in the next few months."

Maier added 584 in singles, which is fifth in Classified Singles, and 483 in team to move past Efrain Rodriguez of New York, who previously held the lead in Classified All-Events with 1,636. Michael Tengan of Hilo, Hawaii, leads Classified Singles with 607.

Regardless of the final outcome, Meier is satisfied with his Open Championships debut and looking forward to future visits.

"To me, knowing the tournament has been going on as long as it has, and we're the leaders, makes me very happy," Maier said. "It's a huge achievement just to make the leaderboard, so it's special no matter what happens from here."

While Maier and Medina hadn't previously participated in the tournament because they weren't bowling competitively, Leser's reason for delaying his first appearance on the championship lanes was different.

The area Leser and Craine come from in Michigan is rich in Open Championships success and history, including series record-holder (862) and two-time titlist Bo Goergen of Sanford, Michigan.

"I hear about this event all the time, but I've never really been invited," Leser said. "It's everything I thought it would be and more. Even though it's my first time, I know our capabilities and knew we had the potential to put up a good number together. I just never expected to end up in the lead. We definitely left a lot of pins out there, but it's awesome to be in this position right now. If we can hang onto a spot in the top 10, I'll be very happy."

Leser added sets of 635 in team and 586 in singles to finish his first tournament with a 1,873 all-events total. Craine had 569 in singles and 550 in team for a career-best 1,809.

Medina, who bowled in the Standard Division, added 479 in team and 425 in singles for 1,465.

The Regular Division is for individual bowlers with entering averages of 210 and above and doubles teams with combined entering averages of 419 and above.

Doubles teams in the Standard Division have combined entering averages of 361-418.

Individual bowlers in the Classified Division have entering averages of 180 or below.

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