The first national champions at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships have been crowned as Brooke Roberts of Port Orange, Florida, and Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois, walked away with the titles in the 20-and-under division Friday at Expo Bowl.
Roberts earned the title in the girls division by defeating Morgan Nunn of Oklahoma City, 188-140. Crowe secured his position as champion in the boys division by dispatching defending U20 champion Alec Keplinger of Coldwater, Michigan, 232-226.
The stepladder finals for each division was broadcast live on BowlTV.com.
By qualifying as the top seeds for the stepladder finals as the only undefeated bowlers through the tournament’s double-elimination bracket in their respective divisions, both Roberts and Crowe would have needed to have been beaten twice by their opponent in the true double-elimination format.
Crowe, the 2020 U.S. Amateur champion, nearly found himself in the position of needing a second game.
In the tightly contested match against Keplinger, both players had the chance to roll a 258 game with three strikes in the final frame. Stepping up first, Keplinger left a 6-10 combination and only knocked over the 6 pin on the spare attempt.
The open from Keplinger gave Crowe the opportunity to step up in the 10th frame and lock up the win with a mark. Crowe left and converted the 3-6-9 and recorded seven pins on his final shot to secure a six-pin victory and national title.
“Alec is one of my good friends, so I knew that I’d have to bowl really well and take advantage of any opportunities I was given if I was going to beat him,” Crowe said. “When he gave me that opening, I knew I had to make the most of it. I threw a pretty good shot, left a makeable spare, and the rest is history.”
Keplinger, who claimed the 2019 U20 title in Detroit, defeated Tristin Davis of Woodstock, Georgia, in the opening match of the stepladder, 207-191.
The championship match in the girls division saw Roberts get out to an early lead with strikes in four of the first five frames as Nunn struggled to find a consistent ball reaction.
That allowed Roberts to focus on making quality shots and leaving makeable spares. Still, it wasn’t until the final frames that she allowed herself to accept the realization that she was going to win the title.
“It probably wasn’t until around the eighth or ninth frame that I truly realized that I was going to win it,” Roberts said. “But even then, I wanted to keep myself composed so that I could throw good shots in those final few frames. I didn’t want to take any chances or give anything away.”
Nunn advanced to the title match by defeating defending U20 champion Patricia Rosales of Orlando, Florida, in the semifinal, 190-175.
Roberts entered match play as the No. 7 seed after 26 games of qualifying, but she gave little away once bracket play got underway Thursday. She averaged more than 211 in her four wins on the way to earning the top seed. All matches leading up to the stepladder featured a two-game total-pinfall format to determine which player advanced.
For Roberts, the key to success was about staying in the moment and never looking too far back or too far ahead.
“I’ve had problems with that in the past, so I’ve worked on staying in the moment, staying positive and hoping everything turns out great,” Roberts said. “It’s great to win, especially since this is my last chance to bowl Junior Gold. Winning here will bring me more confidence going into big tournaments in the future. Honestly, this win still hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s definitely overwhelming.”
Speaking of overwhelming, Crowe was just that from the moment qualifying ended. He averaged more than 218 for his 26 games leading into match play to earn the top position for the bracket, while averaging nearly five pins better than anyone else in the field.
Although his scoring pace went down in match play, Crowe was able to find ways to win each of his matches and posted the top two-game score in the winners bracket in the boys division to secure his spot in the stepladder against Jarin Kurashige of Mililani, Hawaii (444-386), before earning the top seed by defeating Davis, 352-303.
Although, on paper, Crowe’s path to victory may appear to have been rather easy, he was quick to indicate that this national title only came as a result of lots of hard work and the support of family, friends and coaches along the way.
“I want to thank everyone who was there for me – my family, coaches, teammates and everyone. We did it. This isn’t a ‘me’ victory; it’s a ‘we’ victory for all of them,” Crowe said. “This is obviously one of the biggest victories of my career, and it’s a testament to all of the hard work that I’ve put in over these years. It shows that hard work pays off.
“Junior Gold is one of the greatest tournaments in the world for young bowlers. It’s all about who can be the most patient, most versatile and most consistent. The best bowlers are pretty much always the ones who make it to the end here. Winning Junior Gold proves that I can hang with the best of the best, and that is something that’s going to push my confidence even higher.”
The final two spots from the U20 division at the 2021 Junior Gold Championships for Junior Team USA also were determined Friday.
In the girls division, Roberts and Nunn earned their spots on the 2022 team by advancing to the title match. They will join the four players that earned spots Thursday based on their 26-game totals through qualifying – Mabel Cummins of Elburn, Illinois; Jenna Williams of Homosassa, Florida; Caroline Thesier of Mooresville, North Carolina; and Jordan Mundt of Arlington, Tennessee.
In the boys division, Keplinger also earned an additional year on Junior Team USA by advancing to the title match. He’s been part of the team since 2020.
The final spot went to Michael Marmolejo of Fullerton, California, who earned his spot by finishing qualifying in fifth place. With Crowe already securing his third appearance on Junior Team USA by leading qualifying, his spot from advancing to the title match went to the next highest finisher from the standings, based on 26-game totals.
Keplinger, Marmolejo and Crowe also will be joined on Junior Team USA by Tyrell Ingalls of Loganville, Georgia; William Clark of Montgomery, Illinois; and Brett Lloyd of Knightdale, North Carolina.
With the U20 competition completed, the stage will be turned over to youth bowlers from the U12, U15 and U18 divisions.
The Junior Gold Trade Show and registration for U12, U15 and U18 athletes will take place Saturday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This year’s trade show will feature more than 90 total vendors, including 60 colleges and universities.
There will be no opening ceremony for the 2021 Junior Gold Championships.
The first of three days of official practice sessions for the three youth divisions got underway Friday and will conclude Sunday. Competition for the U12, U15 and U18 divisions will take place from July 12-17.
The stepladder finals in the U12 (10 a.m. Eastern), U15 (2 p.m. Eastern) and U18 (6 p.m. Eastern) divisions all will take place July 17.