Russo, Kulick lead after opening day at 2020 USBC Team USA Trials

Day 1 Results: Men | Women

LAS VEGAS - After a year away from Team USA, Matt Russo of Fairview Heights, Illinois, is ready for another chance to represent the United States on the lanes.

The 23-year-old two-hander has spent the last year focused on redemption at the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials, where a subpar final day cost him a third consecutive appearance on the team, and he overcame a huge obstacle Friday at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.

Russo's downfall at the same facility in 2019 was the 39-foot World Bowling Beijing oil pattern, but he didn't let it stand in his way on the first day of the 2020 event.

Opening games of 232 and 237 served as a huge confidence boost for the southpaw, who topped the 175-player men's field with a 1,324 total, a 220.67 average.

His performance was a 229-pin improvement from last year, where he finished tied for 92nd place on the final day to slip from fifth place to 14th overall in the points-based ranking system.

"I was happy to see this pattern again because it was a chance to see the hard work and preparation pay off, and to be the leader on it, especially to start the tournament, is huge for my confidence," said Russo, the 2017 U.S. Amateur champion. "The disappointment of not making the team last year just pushed me to work harder. As much as I'd like to get picked for the team, I'd much rather bowl my way on, and this is a good start."

Russo was followed in the standings Friday by past Junior Team USA member Michael Martell of Chicago (1,323), Cameron Crowe of Orland Park, Illinois (1,309), current Junior Team USA member Anthony Neuer of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (1,305), and Zach Greim of Poway, California (1,290).

Kulick2019TeamUSAForWeb250x250Defending champion Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, a 42-year-old right-hander, set the early pace on the women's side with a 1,323 six-game total, a 220.5 average.

The USBC Hall of Famer and 15-time Team USA member has been working on some physical aspects of her game, including her release, since returning from the 2019 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup in November, where she finished tied for third place.

She feels comfortable at the Gold Coast Bowling Center and also improved on the Beijing oil pattern from 2019 to 2020. Last year, her sixth-place finish on Beijing with a 1,246 total, helped her hold off a youthful field of adversaries for her second career win at the event.

"I really didn't have any expectations coming in this week, but I did want to prove that even though I may be at a little bit of a low mentally right now, I still can be sharp competitvely," Kulick said. "My mindset really is to go into each day calm and confident in my ability and experience and see where it takes me. If I can be a role model for some of the young players, that's special, too."

Kulick was followed Friday by a quartet of fellow Team USA members - Sydney Brummett of Fort Wayne, Indiana (1,267), Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (1,258), Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California (1,256), and defending U.S. Amateur champion Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina (1,247).

Competitors earned ranking points based on their finishing positions Friday, as they will in each of the five qualifying rounds this week.

The top bowlers each received one ranking point, second place earned two points, etc. - with the lowest total of ranking points after five rounds determining the men's and women's Team USA Trials champions. Each will earn an automatic spot on Team USA for 2020.

Having found past success in the unique Team Trials format, Russo knows how important it is to focus on each day and not look too far ahead.

The next challenge for the nearly 340 bowlers (175 men and 164 women) will be the 45-foot World Bowling London oil pattern.

The women will hit the lanes first Saturday, getting underway at 11 a.m. Eastern, and the men will bowl their second round at 5:30 p.m. EST, all live on BowlTV.

"I will do my best each day, but there's no expectation of having to be the leader on the final day," Russo said. "If the pins fall my way this week, and I'm on the first pair on the last day, that would be incredible, but it's not something I'm going to worry about. I will be confident, stick to my game and hope for the best. There definitely won't be any scoreboard watching."

Russo's first year on Team USA was a learning opportunity, and he didn't get to travel to any events. In 2018, he had a breakout performance at the Pan Am Bowling Champion of Champions event in Brazil, where he swept the gold medals, winning singles, doubles, all-events and Masters.

That week was extra special and emotional because it also was the week he lost one of his biggest supporters and role model, his grandfather.

"The trip to Brazil couldn't have come at a better time, and it really changed my perspective and motivation when it comes to bowling," Russo said. "Obviously, with my grandfather passing away, it was hard, but to go out there and win was very special.

"Then, coming here a few months later and missing the team really showed me that you have to keep working. Being on Team USA is something you have to keep pushing for because it's not guaranteed. This is everything to me, and it has been a dream of mine since I was younger."

Following this week's event, the former collegiate standout and national champion at Webber International will kick off his career on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, where he'll be part of a very talented 2020 rookie class.

The 2020 Team USA Trials also includes the United States Amateur Bowling Championships.

After all rounds of competition, the U.S. Amateur stepladder finals and the introduction of Team USA and Junior Team USA for 2020 will broadcast live at

In addition to the Team USA Trials title and spot on the team, the winner of each division again will represent Team USA at the World Cup. The 2020 event will be held in Kuwait.

The top four men and top four women at the 2020 Team USA Trials, based on ranking points, will earn automatic spots on Team USA, while two additional men and two additional women will be selected by the National Selection Committee from the pool of players that competed during the week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.

The National Selection Committee also will select a maximum of five men and five women for the team based on submitted resumes. Those applicants must have been Team USA or Junior Team USA members within the last 10 years or among the top 25 in earnings during the 2019 PBA Tour season or top 25 in points during the 2019 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season.

After the final qualifying round at the Team Trials, the top three amateur men and top three amateur women will advance to a stepladder final to determine the U.S. Amateur champions. Both winners will earn spots on Team USA.

If the U.S. Amateur champion already has earned a spot on the team, the spot will be awarded to the next-highest Team USA Trials qualifier based on ranking points.

To be eligible for this year's U.S. Amateur, a bowler must not hold or have held a professional membership (PBA or PWBA) in 2019. Also, anyone who has won a professional title (regional, national or senior) as a professional is not eligible to compete as an amateur.

For youth competitors, the top four boys and top four girls, based on ranking points, automatically will earn spots on Junior Team USA 2020. Two additional boys and two additional girls also will be selected by the National Selection Committee based on performances from either the 2020 Team USA Trials or 2019 Junior Gold Championships.

They will join the youth competitors who already earned their spots on Junior Team USA 2020 through qualifying at the 2019 Junior Gold Championships.