North American Bowling News

Joint Town Hall Event Brings Back Old Memories, Re-energizes Preston's Susan Phillips

Susan Phillips (on right) with tour director, Carol Mazzeo (Photo courtesy Chuck Kramer, WNDA)

The 2011 Town Hall event contributes substantially to this NABN edition's theme of "Revisitation" as both the women's and men's tours were highlighted by two of the duckpin game's most respected and deserving champions. The WNDA's Susan Phillips from Preston, Maryland experienced a rebirth in the winner's circle as she was crowned the 2011 Town Hall champion, while on the men's side, North Attleboro, Massachu- setts' Peter Pierce added notch number 15 to his holster of career DPBA tour wins.

The event at Town Hall was a combined tour stop for the finest female and male duckpinning pros on the North American continent—the women convened on one end of the house, and the men occupied the other side. The joint tour effort made it particularly nice for pros from both circuits carpooling together. While the host site, Town Hall Lanes, was the common denominator as the setting for both tours, each organization's modus operandi for the final round differed distinctly—the WNDA would be using the conventional stepladder format while the DPBA would revisit its success from the Hagerstown stop with the elimination bracketing.

For Susan Phillips, her first win on the WNDA tour was monumental and came 24 years ago, back in 1987 at Suitland Bowl, as she defeated who many consider to be the best female duckpin bowler in history, Diane Wirt. Phillips has always been a competitive giant on the lanes, although her laid back and humble demeanor might tend to cause her to be overlooked from the attention she has so rightly deserved over the years. Even in her rookie years, Susan showed great promise, ranking 2nd in the GWDA during the 1988-1989 season, and in the top 10 nationally on a number of occasions.

Phillips won the Ladies All-Star event in 1997, which although isn't classified as a pro tour, it's one of the most prestigious annual events in which the best lady duckpinners perennially compete.

Phillips' win at Town Hall Lanes was another example of Susan working hard to get where she needed to be. In this event, however, successfully wading through the tough divisional play from earlier in the day seemed to finally put her over the top, rewarding her not only for Sunday's labors, but also for the many years of hard work and a few near misses from past events. Susan landed in the top seed position and posed a most formidable 'queen of the mountain' for the championship encounter.

But nothing ever comes easy for Phillips.

One of the 'trade-offs' of being the top seed in an event is the prospect of having to wait to bowl the championship match. As the number one seed, coming into a match 'cold' is the price a bowler understandably has to pay for guaranteed money at the top of the heap—that's one of the unwritten codes of ethics established when the stepladder format was designed. But in Susan's case, she suffered a longer than normal wait. Being that the Town Hall event was a combined tour stop for the men and women pros, efforts were made between the two organizations to try to coordinate things so that the women's and men's finals finished at the same time. With the DPBA employing the 'bracket' format for its finals, the WNDA had to essentially wait for the DPBA to catch up.

As a result, Phillips had about an hour and a half intermission before stepping up on the lanes, which can be a disaster physically for a veteran player. But Susan was undaunted, as her stroke would remain sharp during her match with Finksburg, Maryland's extremely gutsy performer, Stacey Gaegler. The eventual final would be a most evenly matched contest, with both bowlers having a wealth of experience, and always around where the action is in the Sunday semi-finals. Both would be 5-0 in head-to-head play with almost identical pinfall totals, Stacey with 752 for 5 games, and Susan, nosing out Gaegler for top seed honors with a 758.

Prior to the championship, the WNDA event was loaded with exceptional efforts from the rookies of the tour on opening day.

Dani McClay got things started in the preliminary round as the top qualifier with a robust 1246 effort on Saturday, which included 3 games in the 180s during her 8-game block. Rhode Island local, Lisa Volpe, was 2nd with a tremendous 1226 effort, including a high game of 197 in the block. Lisa had the distinction of rolling every game over her average in the 8-game set. Her average being 125, Volpe's low game on Saturday was 131. And rounding out the stunning performances on the first day of competition was the Canadian Sensation, Kristi Lampman, who opened the tournament with a 200 game and later added a 190 in Game 4, en route to a smashing 1220 score.

The deciding "Day 2" rolled around for the women, and three Canadians had made it into the "head to head" round—Lampman, Connie Ward, and Jen Galbraith, but none could advance to the stepladder finals, as had been the case in the last 2 tours at Johnson's (CT) and White Oak (MD). But one of the featured newsmakers in 'division play' came about 'from not so far north' when an 'adopt a bowler', New Englander April Loteczka, went 4-1 to win her division and subsequently advanced to the 'ladder'.

The ladder finals began with the wildcard, Baltimore's Kristy Penny taking on Loteczka. Penny won the contest, 162-136, but a trend of 'one and done' would eventually develop and prevail on the ladder, as no one seemed to be able to win more than one match in a row, as the games progressed. Third-seeded Jill Sachs from Baltimore would defeat Penny, 138-119, and then in turn, Stacey Gaegler ended up ousting Sachs, 144-131 in the semi-final.

As Gaegler stepped in to face Phillips for the title, no one knew what to expect from the two experienced match-play specialists.

The graceful combatants traded blows early, but as the middle of the game approached, Susan maintained her poise that was so much a factor from earlier in the day. She stayed strong and began to gradually pull away, while Gaegler began to struggle. Phillips had a comfortable edge coming down the stretch and stayed true to form, as she closed out a 137-107 win for the title.

Phillips has had lingering wrist problems for the last year or so, but has managed to endure. She rolled her way to a strong 1124 block score in the preliminary round to comfortably 'make the cut', which was 1025.

Much like the case of her counterpart, Peter Pierce, on the DPBA side of the event (which will be discussed later), Susan was close to not bowling in the Town Hall event at all. Even though she really wanted to participate in the Rhode Island event, the timing was such that there was a conflict with she and her husband's vacation plans. With the help of her cousin, Joey Sears, Joey and Susan bugged and wheedled her husband to the point where he wound up consenting to detour the couple's vacation plans so that she could participate in the sport in which she is so adept. Again, for Susan, it was more hard work just to get to the tournament, but it all paid off in the long run.

When asked if she approaches the pro tours the same as she did in her rookie years, Susan says there are definitely a few differences now. "Oh gosh, I'm much more relaxed on Saturday, but on Sunday, I still get nervous. But, overall, I just love to bowl, so I just try to have fun and cheer on the people I'm bowling with and around".

With that kind of philosophy, it's no wonder that she's a recent winner of the Ann Schmitter award for exceptional sportsman- ship (2009). Phillips' most recent highlight prior to the Town Hall tour was that she was inducted in the WNDA Hall of Fame in 2010.

Phillips averages 134 to 135 nowadays in her league at Queen Anne's Bowling Center in Chestertown, Maryland. With only one league in her yearly schedule, Susan only qualifies for 'honorable mention' when it comes to local or national rankings. But Phillips still plays the game to its fullest. Last year, she tied her high game of 214—a personal mark that she set for herself the first time she ever broke the 200 barrier.

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