INDIANAPOLIS — In the past month two Penn Yan bowlers competed at the Junior Gold Championships.
Penn Yan alumna Kari Ayers and freshman-to-be Anella Tillman qualified to compete in Indianapolis among over 3,000 bowlers across four divisions on the girls and boys sides.
Each division has seven rounds at the championship, and scoring is fluid, meaning after one round a bowler could be first and after the second, they could drop to 10th, much like golf.
Each bowler was guaranteed to bowl in the first four qualifying rounds, and each of those rounds consisted of four games.
After 16 games bowled over the four qualifying rounds, the top 40 bowlers advanced to play in the first “Advancers”round.
A bowler’s score in each game — starting from the qualifying round — would pile on to their overall score, and after the first “Advancers” round, the top 24 bowlers moved on to the final “Advancers” round.
Under the same circumstances, the top 16 of the final 24 bowlers then advanced to the 16-bowler, double-elimination match play to eventually crown the overall champion of that division.
Ayers, who graduated from Penn Yan in 2019, participated in her fourth Junior Gold Championship this July. She now participates in a recreational club to keep her skills at her best.
“It was very exciting having not been able to go to Junior Gold last year,” Ayers said in a phone to the Times. “It was nice to see all the people that were just as dedicated to the sport back together and competing.”
Ayers was in the under-20 age group division — and she finished with her best result yet.
Ayers breezed through the four qualifying rounds and advanced to the first “Advancers” round in 18th place with a grand total of 2,926 pins.
Ayers dropped to 21st after the first “Advancers” round but bounced back to snag the final spot in match play with a grand total of 4,757 pins, just eight ahead of 17th place.
Out of all 26 games in qualifying and “Advancers,” Ayers’ best score came in Game 5, when she bowled a 255.
Then, Ayers faced a massive challenge. She had to face the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in Mabel Cummins from Elburn, Ill., in the first round of the 16-bowler bracket.
“They called each bowler up by name that were still in the running,” Ayers said when asked that her favorite memory from Indianapolis.
Ayers gave Cummins a run for her money but ultimately fell short, 390-326, over multiple games.
“I expected everyone to be well practiced, which they were,” Ayers said on her expectations coming into the championship. “I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and mental frustration, which it was.”
Before going home, Ayers got a chance for redemption and pulled an upset over the No. 9 seed, Ashley Morrow of Valrico, Fla., in the first round of the elimination bracket by a final score of 372-355.
After defeating Ayers in the first round, Cummins was upset in the second round of the winner’s bracket, setting up a rematch.
Ayers bowled better against the top bowler the second time around, but fell short once again, 360-341 to end the former Mustang’s magical run in Indianapolis.
“I wasn’t surprised how well I did, but it was what I was hoping for,” Ayers said.
The No. 7-seeded Brooke Roberts of Port Orange, Fla., went on to win the under-20 championship after not losing once in the 16-bowler bracket.
“It means a lot to me,” Ayers said on representing Penn Yan. “Throughout the past, there’s not a lot of bowlers from Penn Yan that go. It’s nice to have someone go given that we have a nice bowling alley to practice at.”
A few days later, the under-15 championship got started, and Penn Yan was right back in the mix with Tillman ready to participate in her third Junior Gold Championship.
The only difference from the under-15 to the under-20 tournament is that the top 43 advanced to the first “Advancers” round and the top 28 advanced to the final round.
Tillman, who lives in Keuka Park, started off slow in her first qualifying round and found herself in 71st with a total of 690 pins.
“A lot of people don’t really know where I’m from because when they think of New York, they think of the City,” Tillman said about representing Penn Yan at the championships. “It’s nice to represent a small area even though a lot of people don’t know where that is.”
Following a slow start, Tillman hit her stride in the next eight games.
Tillman ended her second qualifying round by jumping 41 spots in the overall standings to a tie for 30th after knocking down a total of 771 pins in the subsequent four games.
“Scoring 771 over four games, that was a pretty big accomplishment because that put me well in the cut at that time,” Tillman said when asked about her favorite moment from her trip to Indianapolis. “I bowled well that day.”
Tillman also mentioned that just meeting and hanging with peers from all over the country was a great experience for her as well. In non-COVID years, bowlers from Canada, Mexico and elsewhere attend.
Tillman continued to bowl well and sat comfortably in 31st after the third qualifying round with a great chance at advancing into the first “Advancers” round.
“Anella is a very talented young bowler,” Ayers said about Tillman. “She’s very dedicated to the sport, and she’s so young. She has so much time to just keep growing her skills and practicing hard.
“She’s definitely been getting better throughout the year, she’s becoming a real good young bowler.”
When Tillman was in sixth grade, she was a manager on the Penn Yan varsity bowling team. Ayers was a senior.
In Tillman’s 10th game, she finished with her best single-game score of the championship, a 211.
“I did better than I thought I was going to do,” Tillman said.
Tillman’s early struggles returned in her final four games as she fell outside the top 43 into 62nd place with a grand total of 2,751 pins.
However, Tillman won scholarship money during her time at Indianapolis.
Given that the incoming freshman began bowling in 2016, and with one more year in the under-15 age group, it ranked as a big accomplishment to bowl against some of the nation’s finest young bowlers.
“2016 was when I started getting into it and I kept getting more bowling balls,” Tillman said with a laugh on when she picked up her dedication to the game.
Newark’s Natalie Kent also participated in Indianapolis, as she competed in the under-18 age division.
Kent failed to make it out of the qualifying round in a very tough division, although she was in 11th place after the first qualifying round.
Kent was in 20th place following the second qualifying round, when she bowled her best single-game performance in game 7 with a score of 219.
“I would like to give a shout-out to Brock’s Bowl (in Penn Yan) and Mike Johnson,” Tillman concluded.
Johnson has been Tillman’s out-of-school coach and continues to help her improve as a bowler.
It won’t be hard to find Tillman and Kent this upcoming high school winter season. They’ll be at the alleys.