2019 Team USA Trials provides recruiting opportunity for collegiate coaches

LAS VEGAS - A coach's time and a program's budget are valuable resources, so visiting events like the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials makes sense for collegiate bowling coaches looking for the next talented recruit.

The USBC Team USA Trials, Junior Gold Championships presented by the Brands of Ebonite and The Bowling Combine are three annual events that attract hundreds of competitors and a plethora of coaches.

Seeing the players regularly, or over multiple years, allows coaches to monitor progress as the players continue to grow and develop.

The 330-player field (175 men and 155 women) at this week's 2019 Team USA Trials brought more than a dozen college bowling coaches to the Gold Coast Bowling Center, where many young bowlers are in contention for spots on Team USA.

OKeefeLongtime Team USA member Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, is one of the coaches in town for the event, but her presence has multiple layers.

The 39-year-old right-hander is the defending champion at the Team USA Trials and looking to claim a spot on Team USA for the 15th consecutive year, so focusing on her performance is a priority.

At the same time, watching and helping the players who already are part of her McKendree bowling program, along with keeping an eye out for future Bearcats, keeps her distracted in a positive way by not allowing her to overthink her own game.

O'Keefe is the head women's bowling coach for McKendree, while her husband, Bryan, is the director of bowling. The school features both a men's and women's team, and both have claimed national titles with the O'Keefes at the helm. Bryan also is the head coach for Junior Team USA.

There are about a dozen current McKendree players competing this week in Las Vegas.

"Because I'm actually competing, I have a clear picture of what's going on with the lanes and the transition, and that helps me evaluate the talent levels of the bowlers and how they handle this kind of environment," O'Keefe said. "It helps me seek out the ones I want to recruit, and there are a lot of younger kids here looking to go to college and bowl. This is a really cool event with a very talented field, so it's a good gauge, even to see how our own players have progressed."

The routine seems to have worked well for O'Keefe, who is motivated and pushed by her McKendree bowlers. She also is the reigning Professional Women's Bowling Association Player of the Year and recently won the 2018 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup, an opportunity she earned by winning last year's Team USA Trials.

"I feel like I've gotten really good over the years at coaching, but also finding time to make sure I'm prepared for my events and the PWBA Tour, without taking time away from our players," O'Keefe said. "It did take some time to learn how to wear different hats and maintain a balance, but it has worked out well. I think it all keeps me motivated and sharp, too."

Another collegiate coach competing this week at the Team USA Trials is Steve Lemke of Stephen F. Austin State University, located in Nacogdoches, Texas. He is the program's volunteer assistant, while his wife, Amber, is the head coach.

The team is part of the NCAA women's bowling family, so their focus is on watching the women's field at the Team USA Trials.

"We go to Junior Gold every year, so that's the start of it," Lemke said. "We'll see who the juniors and seniors are, and we get an idea of who we want to look at and recruit. From one event to the next, you can see them grow as players. From Junior Gold to the Team Trials, there's a different mindset, and you can see who may be ready for the next level. You can watch how they play the lanes, what their strategy is and what choices they make. You can see how those things develop over time."

The Lemkes priority this week is recruiting, but actually competing on the five oil patterns featured at the Gold Coast Bowling Center gives Steve a unique insight that helps evaluate talent.

Lemke also makes sure to practice with the team while at home preparing for events. Though he doesn't bowl as much as he once did, or near as much as his team members, it really helps gather information he can apply to the team members, their styles, ball roll and equipment.

When not on the lanes this week, Lemke can be seen walking the concourse in full coach mode. There are six current players and one signed recruit to keep an eye on.

"I've been walking around a lot this week paying attention to our girls who are competing, but I'm also watching the younger players I think have some potential," Lemke said. "I look to see how our players are applying what we've taught them in college and see if there's anything we need to work on. I usually just watch in this environment, but if they ask for help, I'm glad to assist. For the others, we make note of their names, so we can keep an eye on their progress and find them at other events."

One of Stephen F. Austin's success stories is Stephanie Schwartz, a four-time Junior Team USA member, two-time member of Team USA and 2016 U.S. Amateur Champion. She also helped the Ladyjacks to the 2016 NCAA team title and finished her career with a win at the 2018 Intercollegiate Singles Championships.

Other collegiate coaches spotted at the 2019 Team USA Trials were from Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Kansas Wesleyan, Monmouth, Mount Mercy, Nebraska, North Carolina A&T, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Sam Houston State, St. Ambrose and Vanderbilt.

BOWL.com's BowlTV is providing wire-to-wire coverage of the Team USA Trials, including the announcement of Team USA and Junior Team USA 2019.