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Back to Nationals the bowlers go

Making the trek to YBC (Youth Bowl Canada) Nationals is not a new experience for 17 year old Valerie Quackenbush. The nature of her competition, however, is something of a moving target.

The Garson Bowl stalwart on the lanes will be making her fourth appearance at the Canadian Championships in the past eight years.

But where her first two trips were as a member of a four-bowler team, the 2018 event in Regina represented her first crack at doubles playdowns, teaming up with Chantal Tourigny and claiming gold with an impressive performance that included a 14-game average pin fall of 237.5 (Quackenbush), and a high single outing of 326 (Tourigny).

Given that success, perhaps it's only fitting that the St Charles College senior would want to mix things up again this spring.

“It's my first time attending (nationals) as a singles competitor, so I'm a little nervous, but I'm also really excited, because it's something new,” said Quackenbush. Though she has certainly flown solo in bowling tournaments previously, this type of elite setting tends to magnify the challenges of the singles format.

“If I am having a bad game, I won't have somebody there to pick me up. This year, it's all on me, there's nobody there to help me. I have to make sure not to get down on myself, even if I'm doing bad. Each frame is a new game.”

As for any last minute preparation ahead of the festivities being hosted at NEB's Fun World in Oshawa, home to more than 50 lanes of five-pin bowling fun, Quackenbush admits to now drilling down to the minutia of the sport.

“I've been working on picking up my pins, just to make sure, because every pin will count,” she said. “You don't want to lose a match by one or two because I missed a corner.” The second Garson Bowl entry at nationals can only hope, one day, to produce a resume as impressive as their senior ladies champ.

Brothers Zach (age 10) and Ryan Burton (age 9) both picked up the sport in the fall of 2017. Incredibly, they will make their first appearance at nationals this week, securing the Northern Ontario bantam team honours while competing at provincials in Dryden in March.

Despite the difference in age, the Burton's do share a common focus with Quackenbush, already displaying an attention to detail that bodes well for their future in the sport. “I really had to learn to get my corners,” stated Ryan, a grade three student at St John's Catholic Elementary School in Garson.

“You don't aim for the middle, you aim for the arrows on the side of the line. And I don't know why, but I am just better at (picking up) the right (corner).” Noting that Garson Bowl last advanced a male youth bowler to nationals in 2001, coach Joni Barton suggested that the Burton's might be on to something with their approach.

“It is a little uncommon for bowlers with just two years to be going to nationals,” she agreed. “But they really work on their technique. These guys want the high scores, and they will do whatever it takes to get the high scores.”

Where some can be overwhelmed by the boisterous atmosphere at larger events, the local brothers embraced it. “There was a lot of people there (at provincials), but I wasn't actually that nervous,” said Ryan. “My highest game there was a 177, and my average is 130.”

It was a similar story for Zach, whose average is slightly below his brother's, but who recorded a “turkey” (three straight strikes) in his very first game in Dryden. “I would say that right from the beginning of provincials, I thought we had a chance,” stated Zach. “Right after our first game. I just seem to luck out at tournaments.”

Moving on to the next level, the competition becomes stiffer, the environment far more intimidating. “My biggest role will be keeping them calm,” said coach Barton. “They are young, they have never been there. Here at Garson, we're not a loud house, so that is very new to the boys. We've been practicing with people screaming and yelling at the bowling alley to keep them calm.”

Garson Bowl is not the only local venue being represented in Oshawa. Joseph Phillips from Whitewater Lanes in Azilda is making a return visit, having secured the Northern Ontario boys singles entry, while the senior girls team is formed by the duo of Madison Beaudoin and Janet-Leigh Dominic (coach Doris Kirkey), also from Whitewater.