Champions determined in U12, U15 and U18 divisions at 2021 Junior Gold Championships

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FINAL STANDINGS

By Gene J. Kanak

INDIANAPOLIS
- The 2021 Junior Gold Championships came to a close Saturday as champions emerged from the stepladder finals in the 18-and-under, 15-and-under and 12-and-under divisions at Expo Bowl.

This year's winners included Brandon Bohn of Jackson, New Jersey (U18), Landin Jordan of Sycamore, Illinois (U15), and Matteo Quintero of Smyrna, Tennessee (U12), in the boys divisions. The champions on the girls side were Jaelle Hamman of Jarrell, Texas (U18), Savannah Taillon of Concord, North Carolina (U15), and Baylie Massingill of Troy, Ohio (U12).

More than 2,900 United States Bowling Congress Youth members competed across six centers in the Indianapolis area in an attempt to take home part of the largest scholarship fund in tournament history ($502,100), make their run at the coveted titles and earn spots on Junior Team USA.

BowlTV.com livestreamed competition throughout qualifying and the double-elimination brackets from four of the six centers, along with Saturday's stepladder finals.

With the finals in each division being broadcast by BowlTV, the top overall seed for the stepladder had to be defeated twice in the true double-elimination format.

Jaelle_cropHamman captured the U18 title with a 225-163 win against Victoria Varano of Stony Point, New York.

She made it clear during the title match why she had earned the top seed for the stepladder finals. Hamman was in control from start to finish, locking in on the pocket from the very first shot and never making mistakes Varano could capitalize on.

Hamman started with a pair of doubles in her first five frames and stayed clean to go up by 23 pins halfway through the game. Varano stayed clean and tried to stay in the match, but a 1-2-4-6-10 combination in the eighth frame allowed Hamman to close out the victory.

"I really try to keep my eyes down and not really pay attention to what my opponent is doing, but it's hard to do that in a setting like this, with the crowd and everything," Hamman said. "I sort of knew I'd won when I stepped up for my ninth frame. Still, I just tried to close it out and make my shots."

Hamman's ability to make those shots and come away victorious was thanks in large part to a solid game plan established during practice.

"My plan coming in was to play the gutter and just roll the ball, because that would keep me away from splits," Hamman said. "Junior Gold is always such a demanding and mentally exhausting tournament, but it's worth it. Even if I hadn't won, it would still be worth it. I'm just really happy right now. This is surreal."

Varano, who made the stepladder and finished third in the U15 division at the 2019 Junior Gold Championships, earned the right to take on Hamman for the title after she got past Elena Carr of Hilton, New York, 211-168, during the opening match.

Carr was in the pocket throughout the match, but poor pin carry allowed Varano to get ahead and stay ahead. After she connected for a four consecutive strikes in frames five through eight, she had locked Carr out and secured her position in the championship match.

Brandon_cropBohn defeated Edgar Burgos of St. Charles, Illinois, in a battle of previous Junior Gold champions, 232-200, to win the U18 title in the boys division.

Bohn captured the 2017 U12 title, while Burgos won the U12 trophy in 2016.

As championship matches often do, the contest came down to the final frame. Bohn had a chance to shut out Burgos with a double, but a 10 pin on a slightly high hit on his second delivery left the door open for Burgos to strike out to win by one pin and force a second game.

Burgos got his ball to the pocket, just as he had on the previous shots that struck, but the result was different, as the 7 pin didn't fall, giving Bohn the game and his second Junior Gold title.

"Winning Junior Gold once was great, but to win it twice now is unbelievable," Bohn said. "This one was for my grandma and for my uncle. We lost them a couple months back, and this is for them. I know they'd be happy right now."

Bohn was happy in victory, but he was quick to point out that he was anything but happy during the early stages of this year's tournament.

"I started out badly, I had no confidence at all and my patience was low, but then something clicked on Day 3," Bohn said. "Once that happened, I just took it and ran with it. To be standing here today with the trophy in my hand now is surreal. This was really just a whirlwind."

Whirlwind is a good way to describe Burgos' pin carry during his semifinal win over Silas Limes of Wichita, Kansas. Burgos threw five consecutive strikes, starting in the second frame, before closing with four of the last five en route to a 263 game.

Limes threw eight strikes of his own in the semifinal, but costly opens in the fourth and fifth frames put him too far behind. The final score was 263-212, and Burgos was on his way to the title match.

Despite Burgos' best effort in the final, the day belonged to Bohn.

"I had to expect Edgar to strike out and force the last game, so I was getting myself ready for that," Bohn said. "But as I sat there, I was happy with the shots I had thrown, so I would've had nothing to be disappointed about no matter what happened. I made all of the shots I wanted to make."

The U18 division featured 558 girls and 1,166 boys at the 2021 event.

Six boys and six girls from the U18 division also earned spots on Junior Team USA for 2022 based on their performances this week at the Junior Gold Championships.

The boys team will feature Bohn, Jordan Malott of Austin, Texas; Zach Greim of Poway, California; Spencer Robarge of Springfield, Missouri; Brandon Bonta of Wichita, Kansas; and Solomon Salama of Beverly Hills, California.

Hamman and Varano will be joined on the girls team in 2022 by Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio; Amanda Naujokas of Ronkonkoma, New York; Annalise OBryant of Ball Ground, Georgia; and Lyndsay Ennis of Conway, South Carolina.

Savannah_cropIn the girls division for U15, Savannah struck in her ninth frame and on her first delivery in the 10th frame of the deciding game to lock up the victory over Kayla Starr of Crofton, Maryland, 212-169.

The final score may appear a bit lopsided, but the title match was anything but dull.

Early on, it appeared as if Savannah, the top seed for the stepladder, would secure the title in the first game, as she led Kayla by 13 pins in the latter stages of the game. A 4-6-7-10 split in the ninth frame and 1-2-4-10 in the 10th resulted in back-to-back opens, which allowed Kayla to roll a double in her final frame to record a 193-187 win to force a second match.

Undaunted, Savannah kept her composure and went back to work, staying clean and using a pair of doubles to keep Kayla at a distance to emerge with the title.

"My second games were significantly better than my first throughout match play this week, so to shoot in the 180s was actually better than what I expected in that first game," Savannah said. "Obviously, I didn't like the way that game ended, but having that track record of shooting 230s to 250s during the second game all week kept me pretty confident in myself."

Confidence is no issue for Savannah, who admitted that as recently as two weeks ago she doubted whether she truly had the talent to compete at an event of the magnitude of Junior Gold. Now having left the 2021 event as a national champion, she is realizing she has the potential to do a lot of great things.

"I have big plans for college and things that I want to do in the future, so winning this makes me feel so good about where I am going," Savannah said. "This lets me know I've got what it takes to make my dreams come true."

Kayla earned her spot in the title match by defeating Sydney Bohn of Jackson, New Jersey, in the opening match, 209-131.

Kayla recorded three doubles, while Sydney left three 7-10 splits on the left lane to allow Kayla to jump ahead and never look back.

Landin_300Landin also took advantage of being the top seed in the boys division for U15 and rallied from an opening loss to Trevor Ashby of Rawlings, Maryland, with a 248-182 win to claim the title.

Trevor won the first game in the battle of two-handers, rolling seven consecutive strikes, starting in the third frame, to force a second game, 257-209.

Realizing the first game was going to be won by Trevor, Landin used the final frames to make a ball change on the right lane. The experiment worked, as he struck on his last four shots on that lane and continued riding the improved pin carry during Game 2 on his way to the national title.

"I knew that I was mathematically out of the first game, so I needed to make a change and try to find something on the right lane for Game 2," Landin said. "The ball change that I made went back to something I saw during practice. I made the move, and, thankfully, it worked."

Other than an errant shot in the second frame, Landin was dialed in on both lanes during the final match. He took advantage of an open from Trevor by connecting on four consecutive strikes, starting in the third frame, to jump out to a 34-pin advantage through six frames.

Trevor tried his best to fight his way back into the match, but a 9 pin in the seventh frame and 10 pin in the eighth, which he was unable to convert, put any hopes of a comeback to rest.

"It was probably in the ninth frame of the last game when I looked up and realized I had it won, and it felt amazing," Landin said. "Winning is a big relief. It shows that all my hard work and dedication is paying off. Everything I've been doing has been for this moment. It's the best feeling ever."

Trevor's road to the finals began in thrilling fashion with a 222-193 victory over Ethan Caruso of Channahon, Illinois.

Caruso stepped up in the 10th frame needing a strike on his first delivery for the chance to advance to the title match, but his shot came in high on the head pin, resulting in a 3-4-6-7-10 split to end his run.

The girls division for U15 featured 298 competitors this week in Indianapolis, and the boys division had 630 bowlers.

Four boys and four girls earned spots on the Junior Team USA's Developmental Team from U15 competition.

In addition to the three stepladder finalists in the boys division, Landin, Trevor and Ethan will be joined by Keegan Alexander of Killeen, Texas.

Savannah and Kayla will represent the Developmental Team, along with two-time Junior Gold champion Katelyn Abigania of San Diego and Erin Klemencic of Powder Springs, Georgia.

Baylie_cropMost bowlers making their Junior Gold debut would be happy just making it past the first cut, but Baylie set the bar a bit higher as she recorded the win against Larielle Tharps of Orlando, Florida, 201-184.

It took her a little bit of time to get comfortable under the BowlTV lights, as her first strike didn't come until the fifth frame. Nevertheless, she managed to stay clean up to that point, which allowed her to establish a 10-pin lead after Larielle had an early open.

"I pay attention to the score when I bowl so that I always know what I need," Baylie said. "I was shaking in the beginning, but I was just trying to keep making spares and make it like regular bowling. I tried to ignore the fact that I was on TV and just kept doing the things that I needed to do."

After Larielle rolled a clutch strike on her fill ball to finish with 184, she forced Baylie to record a mark to take the game and title. Like champions do, Baylie saved her best shot for when it mattered most and delivered a strike to clinch the match.

"When I saw those pins go down, all the nerves went away, and I knew I did it," Baylie said. "In that moment, everything just went away - the nerves, the energy, everything. I'm just shocked and so excited right now. To win this in my first time is just mind-blowing."

Larielle earned the right to take on Baylie for the title by defeating Bella Castillo of Odessa, Texas, in the semifinal match, 172-156.

Matteo_cropIn the boys division for U12, Matteo did what champions do best. He took advantage of an opportunity and delivered clutch shots when they were needed most to defeat Kai Strothers of Maplewood, New Jersey, in their second match, 157-148.

The decisive game was exciting throughout, with Kai starting strong by striking on three of his first four shots to build a 25-pin lead midway through the match. The powerful left-hander ran into trouble shortly thereafter, splitting in four of the next five frames to sit with 140 in the ninth frame.

Kai's misfortune provided Matteo with an opening, and he made sure to take full advantage of it. Quintero rolled a strike in his ninth frame and had the opportunity to double in the 10th frame to shut out his opponent.

Matteo went high on his first shot of the 10th, however, leaving a 3-6-9-10 combination.

If Matteo failed to convert, Kai would only have needed pin count in the 10th frame to win the title. The two-hander was able to convert, though, and struck on his fill ball to finish with 157, forcing Kai to record an 18-pin fill in his final frame.

It was not meant to be for Kai, as his ball hooked through the head pin, leaving another split (2-4-6-10). Needing to convert the spare, Kai only toppled two pins, allowing Matteo to emerge victorious.

"As the last game was coming to an end, I realized I still had a chance, and I just took advantage of that opportunity and made a few clutch shots," Matteo said. "It feels amazing, just really, really awesome."

Kai had forced a second game after winning the first match, 166-161. Matteo made the most of the advantage he had earned during match play by regrouping and coming through in the clutch.

"Knowing I had another game if I lost the first one helped me relax and stay in it," Matteo said. "I was hoping not to have to go to that final game, but, once we did, I just refocused and put it all on the line. I'm still nervous even as I sit here right now, but it's starting to sink in. I feel great."

Kai advanced to the title match by defeating Anthony Swanson of Evanston, Illinois, in the semifinals, 256-182.

The U12 division featured 92 girls and 195 boys at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships.

The 2021 event kicked off July 6 with U20 competition. Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois, and Brooke Roberts of Port Orange, Florida, won the titles in their respective divisions.