Chris Hans of Battleboro, North Carolina, wasn't smiling when he and his teammates got their picture taken at the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, but he definitely had a reason to be grinning at the 2021 event.
Their inspired performance Friday at the South Point Bowling Plaza was one of tribute and redemption, and a clutch final frame landed the group at the top of the Regular Team standings with a 3,400 total.
Hans and Before the 1st Frame 1 got stronger each game, shooting 1,063, 1,155 and 1,182 to move past Bowlers Headquarters of Muskego, Wisconsin, which previously held the lead with 3,368.
“I was fighting off some tears toward the end of the last game because I really thought we were going to get there,” said Hans, who celebrated his 20th USBC Open Championships appearance. “I told Kyle (Troup) a few years ago that he was going to be the best bowler in the world one day, and he certainly is in my opinion. When he steps up in the 10th frame and needs a shot, we’re fortunate to have him as a member of our team and part of our group. Hopefully our score holds, but either way, this will be a night I’ll never forget.”
Troup’s teammates left him needing a mark in his final frame to secure the lead, and he delivered three strikes. The 30-year-old two-hander and eight-time Open Championships participant was just a few days removed from a runner-up finish to Anthony Simonsen at the 2021 PBA Tour Finals, where Troup was the defending champion.
The eight-time Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion and Team USA member is enjoying a season on the PBA Tour that includes multiple titles and single-season earnings record of nearly $500,000, and he was excited to continue that momentum Friday in the team environment.
He led Before the 1st Frame 1 with a 757 series on games of 235, 267 and 255 and was followed by Dylan Macon (697), Hans (676), Brian Locke (652) and Dennis Killough (618).
“Team bowling probably is the most fun bowling, especially with a group of guys with such great chemistry and communication,” Troup said. “We also had two very special people watching over us tonight – (industry veteran) Mo Pinel and my mother, Sherri. We did it for them, and to have everyone here rooting us on was special. To win this probably would top anything I’ve done in my singles career. I’ve never really had a ton of success here, so to see us at the top of the leaderboard is awesome.”
Troup, Hans and Locke turned a slow start in 2019 into a run at the lead, ultimately finishing in sixth place and more than 120 pins behind eventual winner, Higgy’s Aquarium of Westerville, Ohio.
The situation was unfamiliar for the teammates but one they learned from.
“We bowled well last time and fell short in the back half of the last game, but I think we all learned a little from that and brought the confidence into this year’s event,” Troup said. “We’d never been in that moment before, needing a big finish, but gained from that experience and came back hungry. We had a great game plan and some good breaks, as well as some bad ones, but it all evened out, and we were fortunate in the end.”
Hans, a 47-year-old right-hander, shoulders a lot of responsibility when it comes to the Before the 1st Frame group, which included three teams this year.
There’s registration and paperwork, collecting money, organizing squad times, team members and doubles partners – even selecting jerseys and coordinating practices and strategy sessions.
Unfortunately, in 2019, Hans felt just as responsible for his team’s disappointing finish at the Bowling Plaza.
“I really didn’t want to frown in the picture again tonight,” Hans said. “We finished sixth last time, and I just didn’t bowl well. I wasn’t in bowling shape, and my 560 series showed that. I got off to a rough start and did all I could to hang on. Had I bowled better, man, who knows. It sure feels good to be there now. This was a lot of redemption for me, and I worked really hard over the last couple months to make sure I wasn’t going to let these guys down again. It was fun to see it come together.”
The close-knit Before the 1st Frame group may come from all over the United States, from North Carolina to Texas, but you’d never know by their interactions that they weren’t league teammates coming off a 36-week season together.
The first iteration of the teams happened in 2012, when Ryan Whitney rolled a perfect game on a challenging oil pattern and collected three top-10 finishes, including second place in Regular All-Events. His performance showed them what was possible and motivated them to work even harder.
Whitney has been continued to be a spark for the group, including the sixth-place team finish in 2019, but he missed the 2021 visit to Las Vegas due to a back injury.
“We’ve worked hard since 2012, where Ryan had a year in Baton Rouge we’ll never forget,” Hans said. “A few of us had been close to winning with other groups, too, but that was the point we decided that was the end goal for this group. We want to win one of these tournaments.
“Obviously, there’s more time left, and somebody could beat that score, but we did all we could. There’s so much work that goes into this and getting the right people together, and so many things have to go well. I’m so proud of the team and today’s effort.”
Despite his absence, Hans still noted Whitney’s importance to their chemistry and success, even from hundreds of miles away.
“I want to tell Ryan I’m sorry he could not be here for this,” Hans said. “He has been an integral part of this group from the beginning, but he has had some back issues and couldn’t be here this year. Fortunately for us, we were able to grab someone like Dennis, who has won a High Roller and is not afraid of big moments. Brian also is an incredible young man and talented player, especially for his age (24).”
During their three games Friday, the teammates work patches on their shirts in memory of Sherri Herndon Troup, who died in early 2020, and Pinel, a pioneer in bowling ball technology, who died in March 2021.
The 2021 Open Championships is nearing the final stretch of its 79-day run at South Point. Competition kicked off May 1 and will conclude July 18, so Hans and his team have just over two weeks of scoreboard watching to do before they know if their Eagle-winning dreams will come true this year.
They’ll also have a chance to add to their success in 2021 when they take the lanes at the South Point Bowling Center for doubles and singles on Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern. They’ll have their sights set on BowlU of Kenmore, New York, which leads Team All-Events with 9,958.
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