Team title hopes still alive for Senior Team USA at 2021 IBF Masters World Championships in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -
Energy. Intensity. Focus. Communication. Being present.

These are the things the Senior Team USA women need to focus on Friday if they're going to bring home the team gold medal at the International Bowling Federation Masters World Championships for the fourth consecutive time.

The Senior Team USA men also are the three-time defending champions in the team event and really just need some breaks to go their way in the head-to-head matches.Team USA men in team event at 2021 IBF Masters World Championships

Both the women and men advanced through the total-pinfall qualifying round at the Dubai International Bowling Centre on Thursday, but finding their way back to the top of the medal podium will take more than strikes and spares.

After a practice session and more than a week of competition, the eight team members have a good idea about how to attack the week's 44-foot oil pattern, what balls to throw and what moves to make as the lanes transition.

They're making great shots and picking up their spares, and they've been successful in advancing from qualifying to match play to the quarterfinals to the medal rounds.

In a longer or individual format, the best bowlers often can cruise through on ability alone, but in the team environment, especially when the Baker format is used, chemistry, communication, intensity and tempo are important ingredients for success.

The Senior Team USA men and women cleared the first obstacle in their quest for a four-peat, but they must change gears as the competition shifts to round-robin match play and the single-elimination matches that have been tripping them up this week.

Stephen Padilla, the United States Bowling Congress Director of Coaching/Team USA High Performance has been the eyes and advice behind the talented group from the United States, which includes three USBC Hall of Famers and five world champions.

"Team USA always has a level of competition everyone looks to match, and we know other countries tend to keep an eye on us or even turn up their intensity when they're bowling with or against us," Padilla said. "This week, we've bowled well in qualifying and done enough to make the quarterfinal rounds, but we'll need to bring up our own energy level on the women's side and get some breaks for the men. It's not just changing a ball or your speed or moving your feet, it's about raising the awareness and focus of the athletes in the moment to make sure the other teams know we're there to win."

The women bowled earlier in the day Thursday, and Team USA finished qualifying in fifth place with a 10-game total of 1,868, a 186.8 average. The effort included Debbie Ayers, Tracy Calfee, Tish Johnson and Sharon Powers.

France set the pace with a 1,949 effort and was followed by Finland (1,892), Canada (1,888) and Sweden (1,875).

It took an average of 177.5 to make the first cut in the women's team event. Norway (1,854), Germany (1,791) and Colombia (1,775) also advanced.

After singles, doubles and mixed team this week, seven of the eight Senior Team USA members have earned medals, and Ayers is ready to do whatever it takes to get one, too.

"We're one step closer, which definitely is on my mind, because I don't have one yet," Ayers said. "I do agree with Stephen that we need to come together as a team and raise the intensity level up a little higher, rather than just acting like we're here to bowl. I know we've got a great team, and we can do this. I think we're going to have to talk together more about what's going on out on the lanes and figure it out as a team, rather than hanging our heads after the bad shots or misses."

The Senior Team USA men also finished qualifying in the fifth position, averaging 215.1 on the way to a 2,151 total. They tried some new strategies early Thursday, which resulted in a slow start, but they were able to learn some more about their options for the final day.

The fiery foursome of Chris Barnes, Parker Bohn III, Tom Hess and Bob Learn Jr. certainly brings an imposing amount of experience and past success into Dubai, but the pins are indifferent to their accomplishments. Also, in some key moments this week, they've even been downright uncooperative.

A few untimely splits and unexpected ball reactions have kept the group from a breakout week, and they're motivated to close the event with the pins falling in their favor.

After Hess claimed the singles gold medal, the group has settled for bronze medals in men's and women's doubles and a bronze medal in the new mixed team event.

"We tried to play a little more to the right today to see if there was something we were missing, and it turns out we were, but the opportunity to learn also meant a slower start for us," Barnes said. "We rallied in the middle of the day, then at the end, we had a couple guys on and a couple guys off, so we need to work on that. We bowled OK scores, but our qualifying position doesn't matter. We're definitely optimistic about tomorrow, and we've got a clearer picture about how we can better work off of each other."

Norway led the way for the men in qualifying Thursday with a 2,242 total and was followed by Sweden (2,166), Canada (2,164) and Denmark (2,159). The Netherlands (2,094), France (2,069) and the Czech Republic (2,065) also made the cut.

In the four-player version of the Baker format being used at the 2021 IBF Masters World Championships, the leadoff bowler bowls the first, fifth, ninth and 10th frames. The other team members bowl the second and sixth, third and seventh and fourth and eighth frames, respectively.

Team competition Thursday included 20 men's teams and 15 women's teams.

All teams completed 10 Baker games, before the field was cut to the top eight for match play.

The advancing teams will be divided into two groups, each with four teams, and they'll all bowl three games of round-robin match play.

Points will be awarded for each win, and the top two teams in each group, based on points, will advance to the bracket-style semifinals.

The semifinals will feature one-game Baker matches, and the final will be a best-of-two contest.

"We've done all the hard stuff to know we're prepared, so we now need to control the intensity from the beginning and have that confident presence," Padilla said. "We need to be in the settee, watching and communicating on each shot and leaving the bad breaks or mistakes behind us. Both teams have worked hard this week to make sure we give these title defenses all we've got."

The team event will be the final discipline of the 2021 Masters World Championships.

Each event beyond singles this week has featured a variation of the Baker format, where multiple players contribute to a single score.

Two dozen countries are being represented, and they're competing across two age classifications - 50 and older and 65 and above - though Team USA only is competing in the 50-and-older division.

The Masters World Championships is the last of three events being held in Dubai.

The IBF Super World Championships kicked off the stint in the United Arab Emirates and was joined by the inaugural Para Bowling World Championships.

IBF is providing livestream coverage and complete results at StrikeCloud.com.

For more information about IBF, visit bowling.sport.