Published: May 1, 2016 | Bowl.com
RENO, Nev. – For four-time titlist Matt McNiel of Minneapolis and his talented Linds Lakers teammates, the annual trip to the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships is a team effort from start to finish.
McNiel will tell you there’s no feeling like team success and few things in the sport are more special than knowing there’s four, or nine, other guys behind you on every shot. Whether it’s for encouragement, celebration or advice from a different perspective, there’s nothing like being part of a team.
And, while all of the Lakers have been an integral part of McNiel’s success at the USBC Open Championships, he found himself all alone in the squad room at the National Bowling Stadium on Saturday as he prepared to begin his latest title defense.
Prior to his celebratory march down Center Aisle as the defending Regular All-Events champion, McNiel noted that no matter how many times you’re in that position, it never gets any easier.
Less than 15 minutes later, following an award presentation and 10 minutes of practice, the quest for an unprecedented fourth all-events title began.
“It’s always an amazing experience to be recognized like that, but whether it’s the first time or the third time, it’s never easy to come right out and perform,” said McNiel, who also won Regular All-Events in 2010 and 2012, making him the only three-time all-events winner in 113 years of Open Championships competition. “It’s a very short turnaround, and there’s not a lot of time to get comfortable and find your tempo.”
After a clean opening game Saturday, McNiel found his stride and started his second game with seven consecutive strikes, before an errant eighth shot never quite made it back to the pocket, resulting in an open frame. He finished the night with games of 206, 242 and 202 for a 650 series and helped Linds Lakers 1 at least have a chance at the lead going into the final frame.
The group posted games of 991, 1,164 and 1,032 for a 3,187 total, which is fifth in Regular Team this year. Although it left them short of a chance at claiming the Regular Team title, it did put them in good position for a run at Team All-Events.
“Given the scoring pace so far, I really felt like this was our year for team and Team All-Events, but I think I let that get to me a little,” said McNiel, who teamed with Charles Vashaw to claim the Regular Doubles title in 2012 and a runner-up finish in 2015. “I didn’t focus on my own game enough, and that’s a tough lesson for down the road. I personally didn’t perform up to the level I know I can, and that hurt our overall performance.”
In order to regain his spot atop the all-events standings, McNiel would’ve needed to average more than 245 in doubles and singles Sunday.
After a 649 doubles set, it didn’t look like becoming the first person to win in back-to-back years was going to happen, but finally being able to share that winning feeling with his teammates, three of whom won Team All-Events together in 2002 and 2006, still was a mathematical possibility.
Linds Lakers 1 needed a big final game to get past fellow Minnesotan Erik Vermilyea and defending Team All-Events champion, Junior Team USA Support 1, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Led by young right-hander Ryan Burr’s 1,995 all-events total, Linds Lakers 1 settled into fifth place in Team All-Events with a 9,582 total. Junior Team USA Support 1 leads this year at the NBS with 9,672.
McNiel ended his title defense with a 690 singles series and 1,989 all-events total, and he was followed by USBC Hall of Famer Sam Lantto (1,950), Vashaw (1,904) and 43-time participant John Eiss (1,744).
“A lot needs to happen and go right in order to be successful here, from keeping up with the moves and ball changes to great communication between all the guys,” McNiel said. “Last night was a real thrill, but overall, it just wasn’t our year. It still was a lot of fun. We’ve got so much potential, and we’re starting to evolve a little more as a team. We’ll be back to try again next year, and hopefully keep proving we’re legitimate contenders.”
Lantto and fellow hall of famer Todd Savoy, a six-time Open Championships titlist, also found themselves in contention for the lead in Regular Doubles heading into the final frame.
At least one of them needed to double in the 10th frame for them to break the 1,341 tie atop the leaderboard, and after Savoy left a 6-10 combination on his first offering, it was up to Lantto, who threw arguably his best shot of the game, only to have a stone 8 pin end their run.
Lantto finished with a 658 series, while Savoy added 672 for a 1,330 total, which is sixth overall.
Matthew Zitnik of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, and Jason Bowles of Euclid, Ohio, share the lead with 2012 Regular Team champions Andy Mills and Nick Heilman of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
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