Since 2010, Matt McNiel of Prior Lake, Minn., has been the man to beat at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships. His recent success includes two Regular All-Events titles (2010 and 2012), a Regular Doubles win (2012), three 800 series, two 300s and a 299, while averaging more than 250 for his last 27 tournament games.
Staying sharp and preparing for the annual event never stops for the 27-year-old left-hander and his Linds Lakers teammates. They work hard all year, and it continues to show on the leaderboards. Once they post their scores, they must endure the wait to see how they finish, and if they're fortunate enough to come out on top as they did in 2012, the entire Minnesota bowling community celebrates.
McNiel has spent a lot of time in the spotlight lately, and now he'll share some of his personal insight as he enjoys the rewards of a successful 2012 and looks ahead to the 2013 tournament at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev.
Dec. 9, 2012
A happy holiday season to all. For most, December marks the end of the year, but in Minnesota, it marks the beginning of tournament season. In Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest, there is a real focus on team tournaments.
In the Twin Cities area, we have a good handful of 10-man tournament teams that will bowl numerous tournaments together throughout the year. Normally, the Linds Lakers will bowl 7-10 team tournaments together per season (Dec -April/May). Tournament season normally ends with the USBC Open Championships, so basically, our tournament season is about gearing up for Nationals.
Expanding on that note, I really feel it makes sense why so many Midwestern teams do so well at Nationals. We all see each other frequently. We bowl league together, and we practice together. In a way, we are all family. I think that really puts us at an advantage out at Nationals, simply because we know each other very well, and we have bowled as a team in numerous events for the past 4-5 months.
The tournament season in Minnesota started last weekend with the St. Paul Team Challenge. The tournament is an all-Baker format and always fills because it is such a fun event to bowl. As tradition dictates, we use all 10 men on the Linds Lakers team and entered two teams.
Me, John Eiss, Chuck Vashaw, Dave Hoppenrath and Scott Pohl (subbing for Sam Lantto) survived the 30 games of Baker play and came out on top. It was a great start to the season, and it's always nice to add another title to the resume. Plus, it's always nice being able to bowl with Scott. We go back a ways, and he was very instrumental early in my amateur career by letting me travel with him to bowl the Megabucks tournaments, Grand Boot Hill tournament and others around the country.
Growing up as a junior in the twin cities is really a tryout for when you become a USBC Adult member and become eligible to be on one of the tournament teams. Growing up, I always wanted to bowl with John Eiss, as he was my coach for many years. That was certainly a driving force in my junior career and really pushed me. When I left juniors, I found myself trying to find the right team, and for five years, I "drifted" between a few teams. There were a few years where I ended up just throwing together some guys from my league teams just to bowl some of the local tournaments.
A fun side note- at the Open Championships in 2008, I bowled with a Classified team and then wound up bowling with one of 2007 AE champ Mike Rose's team members. Then in 2009, I found myself bowling with Kegel President Chris Chartrand and his crew in Las Vegas. What was fun about that year was the companion team had Mr. 300 Bob Learn Jr. on it, along with former PBA champion Steve Wilson and some other notables. As a kid watching those guys (especially Learn) on TV, I was a bit star struck just to be bowling on the same pair as those guys. It was also cool because Chartrand provided some really sweet Kegel shirts for the team.
Fast forward two years to May of 2011. After some differences with the Linds/Cedarvale team, it was time to part ways. I remember it was a really tough parting of the ways because I had grown up with a lot of the guys on that team.
Immediately after leaving, I made a call to Tom Corbett, captain of the Linds Lakers team. I told Tom I was looking for a team to bowl with and would really like an opportunity to bowl with the Lakers. After some discussions and a vote, I became I Linds Laker. After bowling our first tournament together, I knew it was a perfect fit. We have a great chemistry, and we do everything for the team- there are no individuals. Plus, we all have a great time with each other. Every year, there is a "Laker Party" held a John Eiss's place, and we always seem to find time to have "Laker" get togethers throughout the year. Overall, I couldn't see myself bowling with a different group or ever leaving the team (more on that with my early departure for Reno to come).
Until next time, good luck and good bowling.
Nov. 13, 2012
It has been an exciting couple of weeks since last month's blog. The new eagles have arrived! I also want to spend some time talking about my physical routines as I gear up for the 2013 Open Championships as well as my personal habits when I get to the tournament site.
The eagles have landed
A short while ago, I received my eagles at the St. Paul USBC Hall of Fame banquet. Tom Corbett, the Linds Lakers captain, introduced me, and I got to receive my awards. As I walked up, I was received by a standing ovation, which was certainly unexpected and really meant a lot. It was extremely overwhelming to have the eagles finally in my hands and to enjoy the moment with those I have looked up to, my peers and my family.
In the following days, the eagles made their way into the hands of many local bowlers, who I have been fortunate enough to share the lanes with. The eagles are now residing on the mantel for display and certainly make for an excellent conversation piece when friends and relatives come over.
Looking ahead to the 2013 USBCs
Physical conditioning: Yes, it makes a large difference! For the last three years, I have started a physical conditioning routine that was developed for me by a friend who is a physical trainer. The exercises are developed to strengthen my back, legs and core muscle groups. I normally begin my conditioning 90-100 days before I bowl the USBC tournament, spending an hour to hour and a half in the gym, four days a week. I would highly recommend this to anyone, not only for the benefits to your bowling game but your physical health as well.
Eating and drinking
The OC is a great time to relax and have a good time with your friends, teammates and family. Many folks make a vacation out of it, but sometimes, it's easy to over-do it or make bad food selections. Most of the time, after overeating and drinking, you probably feel like an about-to-explode bratwurst or over-stuffed vacuum bag. Give this a shot - get some advice from a dietician, or just listen to your significant other (usually they are not far off on this topic either), and try it for 30 days before you bowl. Most likely, you will feel better and bowl better. Then, treat yourself to plenty of libations and good eats to celebrate your good bowling.
Personally, I gave up soda/pop a few years back, and it really helped in keeping off the pounds. The day before and day of competition, I will eat light meals/snacks with lots of fruits. No alcohol either. Just an FYI, there is a place right near the National Bowling Stadium called California Pizza that makes great 100% pure fruit and vegetable smoothies. I had one before team and minors in 2010 and 2011, and it filled me up and energized me before hitting the lanes. I highly recommend stopping in to get one!
Get your rest! I always make sure I get at least eight hours of sleep. I also use Melatonin, which is a natural sleep aid and helps me get to sleep in case the time difference is hard to overcome. In the days prior to your competition, make sure you get a good night's sleep. It is very easy to stay up late enjoying what the host city has to offer, but save that for after the bowling is done. Besides, it's more fun to stay up celebrating after putting up a good number and being happy with your performance.
Overall, I would certainly attribute much of my success in the last three years to following the above. If anything, the above are good decisions for your physical well-being and will also help your bowling.
Until next time, good luck and good bowling!
Oct. 22, 2012
Welcome to October!
I want to cover a couple of important things this month. First, the news about 900 Global and the Open Championships, and second, the importance of taking advantage of everything the Showcase Lanes have to offer.
900 Global will be sponsoring the Showcase Lanes this year. This is a great opportunity for bowlers to enjoy some good practice on the OC condition, compete in a few side events and possibly make some extra cash.
For everyone out there, trust me, take advantage of the Showcase Lanes. It is worth every penny, and with a five-man team, its only 20 bucks a guy. If you have a 10-man team, yep, 10 cones....that's a small amount considering how much you're spending for the trip. Trust me, it will pay off! If your teammates come from different areas of the country, this is a great time to develop a game plan. For a small amount extra, you can have one of the very-qualified USBC coaches help you and your teammates with developing a strategy.
The Showcase Lanes also give you a chance to see how your equipment rolls on the pattern and lane surface. You may need to make some adjustments or even drill up a new ball to give you a look you did not have with the equipment you brought.
900 Global will have a booth right next to the Showcase Lanes and will be doing demos on a regular basis with all of the new releases, so stop by and try out some new stuff.
Bottom line, chance favors the prepared. You will thank me after you and your team put up a monster score and have to get a security escort from the bracket window. Book your times now, as they will be filling up fast!
Last year, our team (Linds Lakers) utilized the Showcase Lanes. It proved very valuable as we placed sixth and 16th in team. The Showcase Lanes really helped me determine what equipment to take out of the bag first and what surfaces I'd need. This is very important because with a 10-man team, and only 10 minutes of shadows, you do not have a whole lot of time to be messing around. Besides that, time should be used setting up the pattern, not searching for a line to the pocket. I certainly would attribute a lot of my success at the OC last year to being able to develop my game plan on the Showcase Lanes.
In other news, I will be receiving my eagles in a few weeks! I have been anxiously waiting for the presentation and getting them home. My next blog will be posted soon and have some photos from the event.
Until then, good luck and good bowling!
Sept. 21, 2012
Well, fall is here, and so starts another bowling season. It's time to start putting away the golf clubs (for those in the northern states) and get out the bowling the equipment.
I want to touch on a few things in this blog. First, as I alluded to last month, I will be covering our team play at the USBC Open Championships and talking about the financials out there. I'll also discuss some good equipment maintenance tips and offer a recap of a few tournaments I recently competed in.
No topic I cover will be as important as this one. It's like this: if you work together, prepare and follow the plan, you most likely will do well out in Reno this year. This cannot be stressed enough, as everyone will be bowling on fresh patterns for both team and doubles/singles this year, making teamwork an absolute must! However, if you deviate from the plan, do not work together and do not support each other, you most likely will not have as much success as the teams who follow the first statement. Regardless of the talent on the roster, everyone needs to work together.
So how does money play into this equation? Brackets, super brackets, side pots, 3-6-10 and 1-5-9. You can make a truck load in these side pots. However, when you have certain individuals who just emptied their pockets into these pots on your pair, chances are, come crunch time, they will be looking after their own interests and not yours, or the team's. Trust me, I have been there and done it.
I emptied my checking account to play brackets in 2008 at the OC in Albuquerque. Every frame ticked by slowly, and needless to say, I was not always rooting for my teammates to double or have a score higher than mine. I mean, how can you focus on shot making when you're thinking about the 1,200 cones you just fired in brackets? Even though I do not have a team eagle, I feel that the next two sentences are certainly relevant. If you're bowling for an eagle, play together and split the money. Ask yourself, how much is an eagle worth to you? I will take a guess that it's worth more than the money you make going solo in brackets.
Many of us are just bringing our equipment out of the basement or garage and getting back into fall leagues/tournaments. Odds are, your grips are worn, and your ball is in need of some cover adjustments or replacing. I have spent 11 years in the pro shop business and can't emphasize how important proper ball maintenance is, especially when it comes time to head out to Reno.
It's like anything else, maintain it, and it will perform well, neglect it, and well, it will perform like a cut-rate magician at a kids birthday party.
First off, grips. Change them! I use Turbo Quad Classics (clear) and love them. To every person their own, but these grips have been my staple, and the staple of many of the pro shop customers for a long time. Grips should be changed (depending on how often you bowl) at least once or twice per season. I always use all new grips in every ball I bring out to the OC.
Second, keep your surfaces fresh. 900 Global has a phenomenal system called N.E.A.T. pads. They are similar to Abralon, but much better, in my mind. I used these pads on all my equipment before the OC and will often touch up the covers over my equipment every 10-20 games. Most pro shops will do this for you for a small fee.
I would also like to throw in a shameless plug for the Storm Surface Factory machine. Nothing else does as good of a job of resurfacing than that machine. It never hurts to get a new piece of equipment for the OC, and I will often drill up a new ball or two (as I did with the 900 Global Break Out in 2010) right before I head out to Reno. I know many bowlers will drill out there as well after they play on the Showcase Lanes. Either way, the money spent on a new ball will pay dividends in the long run at the tournament!
I also always use Turbo skin protection tape on my thumb not only to snug up my fit in the thumb, but to protect as well. It does a great job at both, and I highly recommend it to anyone out there!
Finally, on the local tournament scene, I competed in the Fusion Realtors Open last weekend. The event was covered by www.insidebowling.com and had a nearly full field of 189 bowlers. The pattern used was a tweaked Kegel pattern (Winding Road) that kept scoring honest and emphasized good shot making. I managed a late rally aided by a good ball switch to my AMF Bull Whip S.E. to take eighth place.
I also had a blast commentating in the booth with Mike Flanagan. This was a huge tournament with a ton of added prize money from local sponsors. It was great to see a community really embrace a bowling tournament. Usually, bowlers cannot even pay for a spot in the news, but here, the local paper highlighted it and did a great story the week leading up to the tournament. I have now had a couple strong showings this fall in very tough fields, so I am heading into winter with a lot of confidence.
On a side note, my crystal USBC Sport bowling pin was presented to me last week! It now has a home next to its counterpart and alongside my GISBT Miller Time bowling tournament crystal pin that I won when I was a junior bowler.
That will wrap up this installment. Be on the lookout for more blogs here as the Open Championships draws near. Until then, good luck and good bowling!
August 21, 2012
This blog will be my personal journal throughout the year and focus mainly on getting ready for next year's USBC Open Championships. For this first installment, I wanted to recap this year's event, talk a little about the grueling wait to see if my scores would hold up (72 days), getting my check and then looking ahead to receiving my eagles.
After shooting 563 in singles with a few missed spares this year, I definitely felt like I left some pins out there. Thinking about that, and the possibility of losing out on another all-events title, was constantly in my mind. Not that I wasn't worried about losing the doubles crown, too, but it was hard to not keep replaying that 563 in singles.
(Note: McNiel had 792 in team and 847 in doubles for a 2,202 all-events total. He and Charles Vashaw of Deephaven, Minn., teamed for the doubles victory with a 1,489 total).
I was giving BOWL.com multiple hits per day and watched every live stream. Basically, I was stalking the website, and thankfully, charges were not brought up and/or a restraining order was not issued. Anyone who has held a lead at the Open Championships knows exactly what I'm talking about, and for those who do not, it pretty much feels like your stomach is an over-stuffed vacuum bag or an about-to-explode bratwurst. It was sheer torture waking up every day and checking scores from the previous night and having my good friend Erik Vermilyea at USBC keeping me up to date on who's bowling on what dates, so I could watch them on the live cams.
At long last, the day came. I will remember the day forever and always treasure it. Me and the Linds Lakers met for dinner and some beverages and eagerly awaited the call from Duane Hagen (the tournament manager). Shortly after 8 p.m. Central time, the phone rang. It felt so good to know it was finally over, and it was in the books. My name would be put alongside an elite group of some of the most respected players in the history of the sport. Needless to say, it was truly the best day of my life, and I got to spend it with my teammates.
Yes, pay day. Well, kind of. Minnesota is a TEAM-based bowling area. We have multiple TEAM tournaments throughout the year, and thus, we have numerous tournament teams (10 guys) who travel for 4-5 months together and bowl tournaments. The team is really another family, and we all share in the rewards/money we earn. The Linds Lakers split EVERYTHING that we earn in our team tournaments. When we bowl, we bowl for the titles and the prestige. Money is great, yes, but that's not why we are there. There will be more to come about team play and the money situation in my next blog entry.
Lastly, I received a call today from the Minneapolis USBC stating that my eagles have arrived, but I will be waiting until the St. Paul USBC Hall of Fame dinner on October 28th to receive them, which is OK. It gives me more time to prepare the new eagles' nest.
In 2010, when I won my first eagle, Darlene Baker from USBC came down and made the presentation, and it was fabulous. I will be looking forward to the evening, and friends already have been asking to come. They're also inquiring about when the "eagle" party will commence.
The benefits of Sport Bowling
Just to note, my USBC Sport 300 ring came back with its new diamond in place, and my USBC Sport 800 crystal pin will be presented to me during the first night of scratch league coming up after Labor Day. These are a few more of the spoils of the OC....a quick plug for anyone contemplating joining a Sport league or upgrading their memberships. IT'S WORTH IT!! The awards are beautiful and really make your accomplishment special, plus, it's fun to challenge yourself on the demanding conditions, and I really feel it makes you a better bowler and more prepared when you bowl in tournaments that utilize more difficult patterns.
Speaking of which, last weekend I got to bowl the 11frame.com Open, hosted by Insidebowling.com. We bowled on a 1.8:1 ratio, a 42-foot pattern, which was extremely difficult. I was able to lead wire to wire and got "happy go jacky" on the pins at Cherry Lanes to take home a convincing win against a very talented field. It was a great boost heading into the fall season.
That will wrap it up for this installment. I hope everyone will be checking back as share some of my "secrets" to success at the OC. Until next time, good luck and good bowling.
(Note: McNiel has a special trophy case that houses the 900 Global Break Out he used to shoot his record all-events scores of 2,326 in 2010. The ball is protected by the eagles he's won in Minnesota state events. Four more undrilled Break Outs are available to compliment his winning arsenal from 2012).