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Tri-State bowlers prep for junior national tournament

June 17, 2018 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Five junior bowlers have been busy getting their games as sharp as possible as they prepare to compete on a national stage.

Sam Clay, Mark Tabor, Casey Lusk, Jamison Lauder and Bella Deller have qualified for the USBC Junior Gold Championships, July 14-21, in Dallas. It is an annual national tournament for the top male and female bowlers in the United States. The Huntington contingent of Clay, Tabor, Lusk and Lauder compete at Strike Zone Bowling Center and Della competes at Colonial Lanes. This is the first trip to nationals for the Strike Zone foursome. Deller competed last year in Cleveland.

“I’ve put in a lot of hard work and now I start to see it pay off,” Tabor, who’s in U-15, said prior to a recent practice session. “I get to see how I measure up. It will make me better, make everybody better.”

Nine bowling centers will be used because of the size of the field. Opening ceremonies are July 15 at 7 p.m. at American Airlines Arena with the Athlete Walk (where all bowlers walk in) the highlight. All-day practice sessions are July 14-15 with age groups assigned to certain centers. Qualifying rounds are July 16-19 with four games each day for each age group. Advancers Round games and match play make up the July 20 schedule. Championship matches are July 21 at the USBC’s International Research and Training Center. Matches will be taped for later broadcasts on CBS Sports Network.

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The five Tri-State qualifiers had official practices during summer league play on Mondays and Wednesdays. Kevin Malone, who operates the Strike Zone pro shop and works with the juniors, has sheets for oil patterns to be used in Dallas and bowlers compete on them during leagues. They won’t know the official patterns until the event starts.

“The patterns are a lot different,” Tabor said. “It makes me zone in to hit my mark. Physically and mentally I have to get ready. I have a tendency to get tired.”

Tabor, in year five on the lanes, and traveling party members plan to take in some sights in “Big D” as well.

“I look forward to that, but I’m there to bowl,” Tabor said. “Keep my head in it and don’t give up.”

Clay, also in U-15, is a two-handed right-hander in just his second year.

“I’m excited. This is a new experience, bigger than anything I’ve ever seen,” Clay said. “We’ll compete against the best. Can’t wait to see how I do. Patterns are different. They’re a change from Saturday (junior bowling). Practice is so important. I have to learn how to play the lines.”

As someone might expect, PBA Tour standout Jason Belmonte is one of Clay’s favorite bowlers. Belmonte a two-handed righty from Australia. When Belmonte is on television, Clay is watching.

“I love to watch him,” Clay said. “So much of this is mental. When the lights go on, be ready to go up and do it. Kevin helps a lot, especially keeping me calm.”

Lusk is a U-15 qualifier, too.

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“I’m kind of nervous,” Lusk said. “I’ll go down there and give it all I’ve got. Patterns are different, a lot tougher. Practice will be huge mentally. I have a tendency to be hard headed. The atmosphere will be neat. I’m not scared. Ready to challenge myself. It comes down to who handles it best physically and emotionally.”

Lauder, in tournament competition for the first time, is in the U-12 division.

“Nervous? Some,” Lauder said. “I’m happy to get this experience. It will lead me to better bowling. Patterns are more difficult. It will take a while to figure things out. Got to get used to the environment. The goal is to place as high as I can.”

The Strike Zone reps can pick up some atmosphere tips from Deller, who is in U-12 again.

“I can share my experiences,” Deller said. “It’s do your best and don’t get frustrated.”

Deller, a southpaw, has not let some health problems slow her down. She has vision issues and has to use her left hand to bowl.

“It helps a lot having gone last year,” Deller said. “The competition is really good. I learned a lot from the competitors.”

Malone, one of the top bowlers in the area, said he enjoys this teaching moment.

“There’s more to do,” Malone said. “Got to educate them so they know what’s going on. The kids are capable, they just haven’t been there. I have to prepare them for this setting. These are not easy bars to clear.”

Malone’s wife, Cyndy, will be on the trip as well.

“It’s a business trip for me,” Malone said.

OFF TO DALLAS

WHAT: USBC Junior Gold Championships.

DATE: July 14-21.

WHERE: Dallas, Texas.

AGE GROUPS: U-12, U-15, U-20 boys and girls.

AWARDS: Scholarships and Junior Team USA positions (U-15 and U-20).