EL PASO, Texas - Former Team USA member Erik Vermilyea of Las Vegas worked hard to put together a versatile team that could find consistent success at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, and Junior Team USA Support 1 proved at the El Paso Convention Center on Friday that dominant might be a better adjective to describe the group.
Over the past two years, Junior Team USA Support 1 averaged more than 225 across four challenging oil patterns at the National Bowling Stadium, and the team made light work of this year's 38-foot Sport Bowling-certified team lane condition on the way into the top spot in Regular Team at the 2015 USBC Open Championships.
The group started with a 1,070 effort, the highest opening game of this year's event, and got stronger each game, adding 1,093 and 1,196 for a 3,359 total. ND Storm of Mandan, North Dakota, previously held the lead with 3,149. Junior Team USA Support 1 is just the fourth team to surpass the 3,000 mark in the 28 days of competition at the 2015 tournament.
"Tonight was just unbelievable," said Vermilyea, who led the way for his team Friday with a 762 series. "The lanes were brutal. There's no trick. You pick your spots, make good shots and follow the transition. Every one of us knew what everyone else was doing. When any of us got in trouble, everyone was there to help before we could ask for it. It was surreal. I'm far more proud of this number than anything we've shot in the past couple of years. We earned every bit of this, and it's an amazing feeling."
Matthew Tuckfield added a 662 series for Junior Team USA Support 1 and was followed by Jeffrey Mersch and Steve Novak with 652 and defending Regular All-Events champion Anthony LaCaze (631).
Past success on bowling's biggest stage helped the team stay composed after some early mistakes, which led to an explosive finish.
"Four of us doubled in the 10th, and they were important hits because we had a few holes early on," Vermilyea said. "They're hard. We knew going in that it would be a grind, and we needed every pin we could get. We were able to pick each other up and just be there, and we did it for three straight games."
Even with a few different faces sprinkled in during the last decade, most recently in 2011 and 2012, when LaCaze was ineligible for the Open Championships as an exempt player on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, Vermilyea and his teammates have finished in the top 50 in the team standings seven of the last 10 years.
A runner-up doubles finish for Vermilyea and Mersch in 2010 only increased their desire to see the orange eagles next to their names on the scoreboard, signifying their place in history as tournament champions.
That dream became a reality last year when they were introduced as champions for the first time after winning Team All-Events at the 2013 Open Championships.
Despite rolling one of the highest team scores in history that year, the top team spot again eluded Junior Team USA Support 1, which finished second in Regular Team with 3,521. It was an early-morning surge during doubles and singles that catapulted the team to the Team All-Events crown with a 10,247 total.
Though they were unable to repeat in their return to the NBS as defending champions in 2014, LaCaze found individual success and won Regular All-Events, while helping the team to 10th place in Team All-Events with a 10,084 total and 12th place in Regular Team with 3,479.
Now, LaCaze is in position to become just the second bowler in 112 years of Open Championships history to claim titles in three consecutive years. USBC Hall of Famer Les Zikes of Palatine, Illinois, achieved the feat with victories in 1962, 1963 and 1964.
"Our team has been very fortunate the past few years," Vermilyea said. "We've had an enormous amount of success. Watching Tony's presentation, with the walk down Center Aisle and them wishing him luck on trying to become the second person ever to win three in a row, motivated me personally. I wanted this for Tony. Winning a title three years in a row would be unbelievable. We got it going from there and were in the right frame of mind, and it just steamrolled."
The quintet will be back on the lanes at the El Paso Convention Center on Saturday afternoon, and all six of their doubles and singles games will be broadcast live on BowlTV beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.
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