Defending team champions miss top spot at 2017 USBC Open Championships

LAS VEGAS - Although the members of of Wichita, Kansas, had less than 20 combined years of experience at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships prior to their team competition at the 2016 event, to say the group was inexperienced could not be further from the truth.

With all five players boasting of a collegiate bowling pedigree from Wichita State, used that experience and worked together to roll two of the three highest team games of the 2016 event on its way to the Regular Team title at Reno's National Bowling Stadium with a 3,377 total.

The team, featuring Zach Rhoades, Justin Zwaschka, Mitch Hupé, Brent Bowers and Kris Prather, made its return to the USBC Open Championships this week at the South Point Bowling Plaza, and minutes after receiving their championship watches, the teammates started their run at a second consecutive title. improved with each game Friday at the Bowling Plaza but fell short of a repeat, rolling games of 1,017, 1,049 and 1,095 for a 3,161 total. Team NABR of Fairport, New York, leads Regular Team this year with a 3,266 series.

Rhoades led the effort Friday for with a 645 series, while the rest of his teammates followed closely behind as they moved into a tie for 16th place overall. Prather, the runner-up in Regular Singles at the 2011 Open Championships, added 642, Zwaschka finished with 638, and Bowers and Hupé closed things out with 619 and 617, respectively.

"We had a good game plan and were able to get to the pocket on a regular basis, but they really got tricky," said Bowers, the veteran of the group, making his eighth tournament appearance. "The transition really tricked some of us, and our spare shooting could have been better, but we'll be back. That's the beauty of this event. You bowl as many as you can and stay sharp in hope of being able to win a few. For us to win at such a young age, with me being the old guy at 29, I like our chances. We're going to keep this group together and fight to be a perennial contender for these Eagles."

The team also improved each game during its run in 2016, starting with 1,004 before getting lined up on its way to games of 1,178 and 1,195.

Prather led the effort at the NBS with a 732 series, and he was followed by Rhoades (725), Hupé (674), Bowers (630) and Zwaschka (616).

"That was obviously a life-changing moment for all of us," Bowers said. "Knowing we got to the number with a frame to go with the potential to continue to climb and build that lead was a very special moment, looking back at it. You hope you can get to a number where you can feel pretty safe, but you never are. You always sweat it out, since there's a lot of talent out here. We each experienced that last year."

Through their time at Wichita State, the members of not only became familiar with the team aspect of the sport, but also on how to find success as a cohesive unit.

Bowers was a part of two national championships during his time at Wichita State (2008 and 2010), and Rhoades, Hupé and Zwaschka were members of the Shockers squad that won at the 2015 Intercollegiate Team Championships.

Getting to join that same legacy at the Open Championships, which includes longtime Wichita State coaches and USBC Hall of Famers Gordon Vadakin and Mark Lewis, is something each team member has been looking forward to since officially claiming the title at the conclusion of the 2016 event.

"It's been surreal," Bowers said. "Seeing those cups or eagles next to someone's name is a clear indicator that those guys are players and have been there before, and to now understand some of the emotions and feelings they've gone through to achieve that is pretty neat. This is a lifetime achievement. Being local to Wichita and growing up around the Chilton Vending team and other folks who have won Eagles, this is something I've dreamed about all my life. For the five of us to get to join that exclusive group is really special."

The team, which finished second in Team All-Events in 2016, returned to the Bowling Plaza on Saturday hoping to make another run at the top spot before settling into the top 30 with a 9,419 total.

Hupé led in 2017 with a 1,996 total and was followed by Bowers (1,942), Rhoades (1,845), Zwaschka (1,821) and Prather (1,815).

Higgy's Aquarium of Westerville, Ohio, captured the Team All-Events title in 2016 with a 10,041 total. Team NABR also leads Team All-Events in 2017 with 9,957.

Regular Team features five-player teams with combined entering averages of 1,046 and above.

Visit us on Facebook at the official USBC Open Championships Facebook page.