North American Bowling News

Enter: The Duckpin Olympics

Left to right: Stephane Lepansee, John Zikis (champion), Mike Herbert, Frank Turner (proprietor), and James Wolfensberger (presiding over awards ceremony)

Memorial Day Weekend, 2010. A landmark date for the sport of bowling. That's the best way to describe the resulting latest installment of bowling proprietor, Frank Turner's influence on the sport of duckpins. This time, Turner has taken things to a new level—an international level.

Southside Bowl in Hagerstown, Maryland was the backdrop for the newly termed, Duckpin Olympics— the brainchild of Mr. Turner in his attempt to usher in a new wave of contestants into the duckpin market. Little did anyone know at the time that when the idea of the Duckpin Olympics was introduced, it would prove to be a most prophetic plan, as the winners’ 'Olympic' platform would ultimately include two Canadian fivepinners and one United States duckpinner.

With Turner establishing the theme of 'Olympics’ in the DPBA event, and with his mandate of a $12,000 first prize, the biggest prize in the history of duckpins, it tended to follow that this would attract more of the best bowlers from an area outside the United States for the Memorial Day weekend tour showdown.

The Hagerstown event lived up to its reputation of pulling in the most DPBA bowlers of any annual tour stop as 175 entrants participated. 42 qualifiers advanced to the match play round, broken up into seven divisions of 6 bowlers each. A number of Canadian players competed, with 7 making the 8-game cut, which was 1124. There was in fact a tie for the final qualifying position, and a 2-game roll-off took place immediately before the match play round on Sunday morning. Bill Soukup defeated Sal Nasisi, 292-267.

Before getting into the finer details, it should be mentioned that while the men were doing battle at Southside Bowl, across town at neighboring Dual Lanes, the women’s pro tour was also underway, and it too was sponsored by Frank Turner as a part of the Duckpin Olympics theme, with a $5,000.00 grand prize for the eventual champion. The field of 76 lady pros was a tad higher than recent WNDA tours, and some interesting storylines developed as the tourney progressed.

In the preliminary round, the winning-est woman on the ladies’ circuit, Amy Sykes, sprinted out of the starting blocks with a fabulous 211 game to open the festivities, and highlighted all players with a top score of 1230 for the 8 game qualifier. Rounding out the top 4 on Day 1 were Mindy Thomas with an 1178 score, Stacey Gaegler at 1156, and Bethany Fisher with 1155. The Sunday semi-finals was a different story entirely, and was a real free-for-all among the 24 finalists. Veterans Andrea Lanahan of Catonsville, Maryland, and Frederick, Maryland’s Jackie Adams swept through their divisional match play rounds unscathed with 5-0 records, with Lanahan earning the top seed position for the stepladder finals as she eclipsed all scores with a 784 effort for the 5 games. Occupying the 3rd and 4th seedings were Kendra Boswell, with a 4-1 record, 752 pinfall, and Becky Sieck at 4-1, with 716 pinfall. The wildcard was Jennifer DiStefano with a 4-1 record, and a 745 pinfall, which was a mere 7 pins shy of Boswell In the tightly contested Division A.

The opening match in the stepladder finals pitted Becky Sieck against Jen DiStefano. Jen took the early lead in the opening frame with a spare, but Becky had to wait until the 3rd frame for her first spare break, which she converted, and by the 5th frame, DiStefano had a slim 3-pin lead. The game continued in uneventful fashion until the 8th box, when Sieck caught fire with a spare and double-header to cruise to a 140-108 win. Sieck would then face the 3rd-seeded Kendra Boswell.

Becky held the advantage in the majority of her game with Kendra, with neither bowler able to gain more than a 6-pin lead at any time. The two matched strikes and spares in the 5th and 6th frames, but Boswell was able to continue her ‘mark assault’ through the 9th frame and came away with a 151-130 victory.

Kendra now took the baton to ascend the stepladder and faced the 2nd seed, Jackie Adams. Jackie opened with a spare, but Kendra answered with a double-header and had the early lead. But Boswell ripped the middle for only a 3-count on her double, and was off the mark in her next 2 frames, while Adams stepped up the pace to take a 1-pin lead at the halfway point. Kendra regained the lead with a pair of spares in the 6th and 7th frames, but faltered in the last 3 frames of the contest. Jackie was sharp throughout the game, although her marks were scattered. However, a key spare in the 9th frame led to a situation where Adams needed only a decent count to seal the deal at game’s end. Jackie came through with a 9-count, to earn a 134-127 win.

The Adams Family: Ray, Jackie, and Stephanie (Photo courtesy WNDA)

The $5,000.00 final was now at hand with a battle of the ‘undefeated’s from divisional play set to take on one another—Jackie Adams vs. Andrea Lanahan. Andrea began the match by ripping the middle, leading to an 8-box, while Jackie had faded a bit from her strong performance in the prior game, and couldn’t convert on a couple of spare opportunities. Adams went flat through 4 frames, while Lanahan was a little sharper but still had no real spare opportunities in her opening 5 frames, highlighted by a couple of ‘9-10’ splits. Adams broke the ice in her half of the 5th with a single pin spare conversion, and matched her effort in the 6th with another single pin spare. With her back to the wall, Andrea had to get something going in a hurry, and she did just that, with a single pin spare in the 6th, a strike in the 7th, and another single pin conversion in the 8th. But meanwhile, unfortunately for Lanahan, the ‘Adams Express’ had begun to roll. Shaking off the early jitters, Jackie proceeded to mark out from the 5th frame, and ended the tournament impressively with a 154-122 triumph.

For Adams, the win at Hagerstown was the crown jewel in her bowling career, as her continued dominance in the game has started to reap accolades as of late. This was Adams’ 2nd tour win in less than a year’s time, along with runner-up finishes at the Ladies Grand Prix and Ladies All-Star events mixed in.

During my stay at the ladies event at Dual Lanes, there was a ‘cell phone report’ from what was going on at the men’s event at Southside Bowl from one of the spectators. While the women were in their final game, the men’s stepladder had been established, and I was surprised to hear that two Canadians were on the ladder in the 2nd and 3rd seed positions—Stephane Lapensee and Mike Herbert, while the top seed was Hamden, Connecticut’s John Zikis. At the conclusion of the women’s event, I raced over to Southside to catch the remaining ladder action.

From the time I had heard the latest results until I could arrive at Southside Bowl, some stellar action had already taken place. The wildcard, Tom Hobbs faced off against the 7th seed, Brian Styles. Hobbs came away with a tough 122-108 win, and next faced 6th seeded Dominick Caprinolo. Hobbs again struggled while Caprinolo immediately got his game going. Dom prevailed 151-110. Caprinolo advanced to bowl the 5th seed, Jason Smith. In what was an intense matchup, Jason came up big at the end, edging Dom, 148-144. Smith was now poised and took on another of the young superstars of the game, Billy Koontz. Jason remained on-target while Koontz appeared a bit ‘cold’ at the outset, and Smith rode the wave to a 156-114 victory.

With only 3 matches left to crown a champion in the men’s half of the Olympics, the crowd in attendance would have its first dose of history in an international match-up, as Jason Smith now paired off against the 3rd seed—Canadian Mike Herbert. Herbert is a natural fivepin bowler, but has acquired a lot of experience on the duckpin tour, as he was one of the early northern ambassadors to the duckpin pro tour, beginning his DPBA career in 2007.

In what would ultimately be the ‘match of the day’, the contest between Jason Smith and Mike Herbert was the definitive ‘nip and tuck’ battle, featuring 4 lead changes throughout the entire game. The two bowlers both started with spares and then open frames in the 2nd, and the match was tied after 2 boxes. Jason went ahead with a strike in the 3rd, but Mike rallied back with single-pin conversions for spares in the 4th and 5th frames, and then a strike in the 6th. Then Smith took the offensive again, countering with single-pin spares in the 6th and 7th frames, and then added his own strike in the 8th to regain the lead.

Herbert was befallen with splits in his 7th and 8th frames, but then laid the foundation for a big finish with a key strike in the 9th frame. With an opportunity to tighten the screws on Herbert, Smith aggressively pitched his 9th frame, but was too accurate, as he ripped out the middle, leaving the 2-3-4-6-7 split. Jason made the professional play, counting 8 on his strike, and tallied a 10 for the frame, for a score of 130 after 9 boxes. With Herbert’s score of 111 in the 8th and a strike in the 9th, the possibilities seemed endless, as Smith prepared to roll his half of the 10th frame. Would Jason stay aggressive with the possibility of another ‘middle rip’? And how would the Canadian, who was relatively new to the duckpin version of the bowling game, handle the pressure of the last frame? The questions would soon be answered. In Jason’s half of the 10th, it appeared as though he may have indeed been concerned with a repeat ‘chop of the middle’, as he ended up going wide on his first ball, leading to chopping the 3-9. Smith made a gallant attempt at converting the spare, but the difficulty of the leave led to a bit of bad luck on his next two balls, as Jason could only manage a 7 for the frame, ending at 137 for the game. For Herbert, the task was simple. He needed at least an 8-count on his strike, with a ‘9-out’ to win the game. Solid as a rock, Mike made his best delivery of the game, breaking 9, leaving only the 5-pin, which was enough to secure the win, in a thrilling 140-137 effort.

With 2 matches left in the tournament, a most intriguing semi-final had materialized, with two Canadians facing off—the advancing Mike Herbert vs. the 2nd seed, Stephane Lapensee. To the crowd in attendance, not much was known about Lapensee, but his credentials were of the highest.

Stephane has the distinction of carrying the highest average in the Canadian game of fivepins in Ottawa at a hefty 271 clip, in a bowling variation where 450 is a perfect game. It’s difficult to equate what a fivepin average would convert to in duckpins. From a numbers standpoint, with 270 being 60% of 450, an average of 271 is most impressive. If there was any question as to Lapensee’s ability, he proved himself exceedingly by going 5-0 in a tough division, with 801 pinfall, which included a couple of cases of last frame heroics.

The match between Herbert and Lapensee got underway with Stephane taking the early lead with a spare conversion at the outset. But Lapensee would soon meet with trouble, leaving 3 splits, including the ‘7-8’ twice in the next 3 frames. Herbert, after an initial slow start in the first 2 frames, put on a ferocious charge in what would be the best 6 frames of his duckpin career. In frames 3-8, knowing he needed offense against his fellow countryman, Mike doubled, followed by a ‘10-pin single’ conversion, and then a matching double-header with another 10-pin conversion. Mike’s onslaught proved to be just enough of a surge to combat Lapensee, who had launched his own offensive in the 5th box. Stephane’s comeback included marks in 5 of the last 6 frames with a double-header at the end. But Herbert had built enough of a lead to fend off Lapensee, 168-157.

Herbert’s advance to the final was stellar, but he still had one more mountain to climb in the form of the top seed, John Zikis. Zikis was a one-man highlight reel during the semi-final match play. He went 4-1 with a whopping 860 pinfall score, mostly coming as a result of two ‘200 games’ during head-to-head competition. John had an 'experience edge' on Mike in that Zikis already had a pro tour win under his belt from 2006.

Southside Champion, John Zikis

With the $12,000.00 prize on the line, Zikis opted to start the match first (and finish last). Both bowlers were a little bit anxious as each player went by single pin spares in the opening frame. As the first half of the contest progressed, Zikis was able to build a somewhat comfortable 15-pin lead by the halfway point, despite his first ball being spotty, while Herbert continued to struggle with his spare conversions. For Zikis, he may have been feeling the affects of being a bit cold after a lengthy wait to participate as the top seed. For Herbert, he most likely suffered an adrenaline loss, after being on such a ‘high’ from the previous two exhilarating matches. John’s 2nd half was befitting of a top seed, however, as he looked a lot more relaxed and sharp, breaking three consecutive single pins, followed by a foundation strike in the 9th frame. Mike began to get his game going again, posting a necessary strike in the 7th, but a key bad break in the 8th in which left the 9-10 split in his bid for a double-header spelled doom for the Canadian. The game ended with John Zikis claiming his 2nd pro tour star in a 147-112 victory. A noble effort rewarded Herbert with a $6,000.00 runner-up check.

The awards ceremony was a fitting climax to the Duckpin Olympics concept. The event’s benefactor, Frank Turner, came up with a personal stamp on the event that was just another touch of brilliance, as he enlisted the services of 6-time pro tour champion, Jimmy Wolfensberger, in the distribution and ‘crowning’ of the Olympic-style medals. Wolfensberger, regarded by many as the greatest duckpin bowler who ever lived, holds the distinction of being the only duckpinner who ever officially retired from the sport. Although it’s been around 30 years since “Wolfie” last bowled on the pro tour, his bestowing of medals on the three finalists, Lapensee, Herbert, and Zikis, was something extremely special, perhaps symbolic of a ‘passing of the torch’ to the next generation of bowlers.

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