Champion enjoys individual success at 2014 USBC Open

RENO, Nev. - Since returning to the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships after a two-year hiatus, Anthony LaCaze of Melrose Park, Ill., has established himself as the man to beat on the tournament lanes.

Last year, he helped Junior Team USA Support 1 of Mansfield, Texas, to the Team All-Events title and a second-place team finish, and while their title defense didn't go as well as they'd hoped this week at the National Bowling Stadium, LaCaze was able to enjoy some individual success.

The 31-year-old right-hander rolled sets of 766 in doubles, 765 in team and 742 in singles Monday to capture the Regular All-Events lead with a 2,273 total. He led the defending champion Junior Team USA Support 1 to a 10,084 total, which is third in Team All-Events this year.

Tim Damerow of Waupun, Wis., previously held the Regular All-Events lead with 2,228, and his Janz's H.I. team of Beaver Dam, Wis., tops the Team All-Events standings with 10,363.

"I didn't know what was leading," said LaCaze, who logged his 13th year on the tournament lanes. "I just knew I was throwing it well. I wanted to stay focused on what I needed to do to strike, instead of striking itself."

Since long before LaCaze and his teammates arrived in Reno from four different states, they'd been in constant contact concerning their practice experiences, equipment choices and strategic ideas.

They walked down Center Aisle together as they were recognized as champions for the first time, and every minute of their time on the lanes was about the team. They worked together, communicated about what they were seeing and helped each other stay focused as they tried to become the first team to repeat in Team All-Events since Lodge Lanes of Belleville, Mich., accomplished the feat in 1998.

"The team really helped me out," said LaCaze, who also is third in Regular Doubles with Steve Novak of Bay City, Mich., with a 1,367 total. "We played the team game, stayed right and developed the lanes really well. I just tried to keep my first step short and wait for the swing to get through, and the results were good."

JuniorTeamUSASupport1(2014)OC465x262LaCaze was joined on the lanes by Erik Vermilyea (2,013), Matthew Tuckfield (1,974), Novak (1,967) and Jeffrey Mersch (1,857).

The group also found success during its team event Sunday, despite the excitement of the championship celebration and the pressure of being the defending champions.

"It was something I thought about for a year straight," Vermilyea said. "From the second we set the number last year, I started to think about what it would be like to win, see the word champion by our names, march down Center Aisle - and it was an amazing experience. It was everything I hoped for. It was absolutely perfect and something I'll never forget."

After starting slowly with a 1,050 game, Junior Team USA Support 1 was able to pile on the strikes on the way to games of 1,161 and 1,268. The finale was the fifth-highest game in tournament history and gave the group a 3,479 total, which is fifth in Regular Team. Motion Plus Lanes of Cudahy, Wis., leads with a record 3,561.

"To finish that up and start bowling was a lot of work," said Vermilyea, a former Junior Team and Team USA member who made his 10th Open Championships appearance. "There were not a lot of good shots the first game, but we settled down. We gelled like we always do, and we finished it off strong."

LaCaze made his return to the Open Championships in 2013 after missing two years as an exempt player on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. He was the 2009-10 PBA Rookie of the Year and picked up his first PBA national title at the Earl Anthony Memorial Classic in 2010.

In his re-emergence on bowling's biggest stage, LaCaze contributed a 2,050 all-events total to the Team All-Events-winning effort. With this year's success, he has averaged more than 240 in his last 18 tournament games. He averaged 200.9 in the nine tournaments before earning his Tour exemption.

It definitely has been an emotional week for LaCaze and his teammates, who celebrated, struggled and succeeded together, while sharing a life-changing experience at the Open Championships. And now, the wait and scoreboard watching begins again.

"I'm getting goose bumps just talking about it," LaCaze said. "It feels good. I hope everybody who comes out here throws the ball to the best of their ability, and hopefully I'll be there at the end."

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Presenting sponsors for the 2014 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno.