By Matt Cannizzaro and Sam Neves
USBC Communications – June 7 2021
LAS VEGAS – Monday at the 2021 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships featured multiple lead changes involving past champions – two who were present and one who was nearly 3,000 miles away in New York.
The day of competition at the South Point Bowling Center included two sets of new leaders in Regular Doubles and new names atop the leaderboard in Regular All-Events and Team All-Events. Oh, and the 15th perfect game of the 2021 tournament.
Kevin Bienko, a 25-year-old right-hander from Kenmore, New York, kicked of excitement. He started the day hot and never cooled off, firing games of 235, 229 and 279 en route to a 743 series and the Regular Doubles lead with Chad Mee, a 25-year-old right-hander from Hamburg, New York.
Mee contributed games of 237, 267 and 215 for a 719 set and 1,462 total, which was enough to pass Gregory Young Jr. of Rockledge, Florida, and Aaron Ruiz of Nashville, Tennessee, who previously held the lead with 1,447.
Bienko started doubles with an open frame and then marked in 28 of his next 29 frames, including closing the event with 10 consecutive strikes. Mee filled his first 28 frames and ended doubles with a pair of missed single pins.
“There were definitely some bumps near the end,” said Mee, who made his fourth USBC Open Championships appearance. “Thankfully, though, we threw enough strikes to get it done.”
Bienko, making his fifth trip to Open Championships, didn’t stop there. Having bowled 735 in the team event Sunday at the South Point Bowling Plaza, he needed 726 in singles to take possession of the Regular All-Events lead, held by Team USA member Andrew Anderson of Holly, Michigan, with a 2,203 nine-game total.
Bienko continued his pace through singles with games of 259, 269 and 220. His 748 series, which is 10th in Regular Singles, landed him ahead of Anderson with a 2,226 total. Anderson still leads singles with 802, the only 800 series of the 2021 tournament.
“It’s unreal, and I honestly don’t know what to say,” Bienko said. “I really just have to thank my team. We broke the lanes down really well, and without that, I couldn’t have done what I did.”
The spotlight during singles did not belong solely to Bienko, as his teammate Ryan Reese, a 23-year-old right-hander from Buffalo, New York, bowled 300 in his second game of singles. It came between games of 199 and 173 for a 672 series.
“I honestly couldn’t feel my legs,” said Reese, who was competing in the Open Championships for the second time. “The lanes broke down in a way that I could take advantage of that game.”
The perfect game was just enough to help nudge BowlU of Kenmore, New York, into the lead in Team All-Events, which includes the combined all-events totals of all five team members.
With Bienko’s 2,226 leading the charge, BowlU’s performance included Andrew Herbert (2,086), Mee (2,042), Reese (1,929) and Joseph DiNardo (1,675) for a 9,958 total. K and J Finishing 1 of Carpentersville, Illinois, previously held the lead with 9,927.
This year’s event is not the first time the BowlU name has been in lights at the Open Championships.
The new leaders have studied under 2017 Regular All-Events champion Brad Angelo, who teaches the BowlU methodology he and founder Rick Benoit have taught all over the world.
Along with the individual win at the South Point Bowling Plaza in 2017, Angelo and Herbert finished fourth in Regular Doubles, while BowlU 1 and BowlU 2 finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in Team All-Events.
“We really have to give a shoutout to Rick and Brad at BowlU,” said Mee, a member of Junior Team USA in 2016. “Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
For Mee and Bienko, their time at the top of the Regular Doubles standings Monday was short-lived, and their score was passed before they really had a chance to fully take in the moment.
On the next doubles and singles squad, 2018 Team All-Events champions Chris Pierson of West Bend, Wisconsin, and David Labinski of Milwaukee were able to chase down the new leaders, and a perfect final frame helped them into the lead.
Both Open Championships veterans closed with three clutch strikes to steal the top spot by just four pins with a 1,466 total.
Pierson, a 31-year-old right-hander making his 11th tournament appearance, led the way with games of 269, 232 and 246 for a 747 series. Labinski, a 33-year-old right-hander competing for the 15th time, started slowly with a 204 game, but he followed it with 246 and 269 for a 719 total.
“We were aware of the lead change during the previous squad,” said Pierson, a two-time member of Junior Team USA. “We actually tried to go watch after we checked in, but they were already finished.”
Having bowled 729 in team Sunday, Pierson also had a chance to go around Bienko’s all-events score, but he ultimately fell short. Needing 750 in singles for a share of the lead, Pierson bowled games of 192, 180 and 226 for 598. He finished with a 2,074 all-events total, which is just outside the top 20.
Pierson and Labinski know the feeling of scoreboard watching all too well, as their winning Team All-Events score in 2018 was bowled in early May, which meant more than two months of nerves and leaderboard checks.
“I’ll definitely be watching the scores,” said Labinski, who had a 299 game and a run at 800 in his team event in 2013. “There’s still a long way to go, but you can’t win if you don’t leave town with the lead.”
The 2021 Open Championships kicked off May 1 and will run at the South Point Bowling Plaza (team) and South Point Bowling Center (doubles/singles) for 79 consecutive days until July 18. During that time, more than 7,700 five-player teams will make their way to Las Vegas to compete.
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