Higgy's Aquarium falls short in defense of team title, eyes Team All-Events at 2021 USBC Open Championships

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By Matt Cannizzaro and Hope Parsons
USBC Communications

LAS VEGAS -
On Thursday evening at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, the Squad Room resembled a jewelry store, as a handful of participants were awarded commemorative watches for their performances at the 2019 event.

The squad included five defending champions and a dozen titlists overall, all looking to continue their recent success on the sport's biggest stage.

Among them was defending Regular Team champion, Higgy's Aquarium of Westerville, Ohio. Four members of the wining team marched back into the South Point Bowling Plaza with their sights set on adding the team's third Eagle in five years.

Prior to winning the 2019 team title, captain Dan Higgins helped his crew to the 2016 Team All-Events victory and seven other top-10 finishes in Regular Team or Team All-Events since 2013.

Just a few lanes away was reigning Regular All-Events champion, Ryan Mouw of Muskegon, Michigan, who also was a Regular Team champion in 2018 and was joined Thursday by three members of that winning team.

Each of the five returning winners were recognized before the squad, a wait of nearly two years since the conclusion of the 2019 Open Championships. Minutes later, the title defenses were underway. The 2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

The leading score at the 2021 event, 3,368, is slightly higher than the winning total Higgy's Aquarium posted in 2019 (3,362), and a number Higgins and his teammates knew was attainable. In their last seven events, they have eclipsed the 3,300 mark an unprecedented five times.

Despite a series of injuries, Higgins was ready to help his team try to become the first quintet in tournament history to win Regular Team in back-to-back events.

"I was bowling a sweeper last week, and I had to withdraw, since I had calf strain in my lower left calf," said Higgins, who wore an athletic shoe to minimize the challenges of an injury to his right foot, along with Kinesiology Tape to help with pain in his bowling arm. "It was eerie for me, since 12 years ago, I had a previous pain in my right calf and tore it while bowling."

The 46-year-old right-hander was unfazed by the injuries, however, and turned in the third-best team set of his 24 visits to the Open Championships, a 26-strike 732 series that helped Higgy's Aquarium to games of 1,076, 1,078 and 1,051 for a 3,205 total, which is just inside the top 30 this year.

The 3,368 standings topper belongs to Bowlers Headquarters of Muskego, Wisconsin.

Higgins was accompanied by two members of both the 2016 and 2019 winning teams, Joe Bailey (684) and Chad Roberts (594). Chuck Tompkins, an addition for the 2019 title, added a 509 set, while newcomer, Vincent Bellar contributed a 686 series.

Despite their discouragement at coming up short of a repeat in the team event, they had their heads held high for an attack plan to take the Team All-Events title. The action for them now shifts to the South Point Bowling Center for doubles and singles Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

"We didn't bowl bad, but we needed to work on our spare game a bit more," Higgins said. "We've got to do what we've got to do to push through and get to the all-events spot."

Bellar was speechless about the tough competition they faced but noted that he was ready for whatever the next few days may bring. Higgins agreed.

"Vinny was a great addition to our team, and he fits in really well with the chemistry everyone has," Higgins said. "He was a good pick, and we're glad to have him here."

Josh Conner was the final member of the 2019 performance, and he also was part of the team for the Team All-Events win in 2016. Tony Carson was the fifth member of that squad.

The string of success for Higgy's Aquarium also includes runner-up team finishes in 2016 and 2018, a pair of second-place efforts in Team All-Events (2017, 2018) and a fourth-place finish in Team All-Events in 2019.

The score to beat in Team All-Events this year at South Point belongs to BowlU of Kenmore, New York, with 9,958.

MouwWatch2021OCForWeb637Mouw, who is looking to become the third bowler in Open Championships history to win Eagles in three consecutive tournaments, opened his title defense with games of 179, 181 and 207 for a 567 series.

The 41-year-old right-hander, who also received watches Thursday for finishing second in Team All-Events and third in Regular Singles at the 2019 tournament, now must average more than 276 across three games of doubles and three games of singles Friday to catch 2021 Regular All-Events leader Kevin Bienko (2,226). Bienko is part of the BowlU team leading Team All-Events.

Mouw's team set helped S and B Pro Shop 1 of Warren, Michigan, to a 3,160 total, which is just outside the top 50 this year.

The 2021 Open Championships kicked off May 1 and is running for 79 consecutive days through July 18.

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