LAS VEGAS – Four-time Eagle winner Matt McNiel recently made a cross-country move from Minneapolis to Alva, Florida, and he was on the move again Friday at the 2022 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, where he helped Storm Products Inc. 1 climb the Regular Team standings.
Led by McNiel’s 11-strike 279 game, the team kicked things off with the highest opening game of the year at the South Point Bowling Plaza, a 1,203 effort, that was followed by games of 1,089 and 1,194 for a 3,486 total.
It is the highest team score on the tournament lanes since 2014, when it took a record 3,720 total to claim the Regular Team title.
McNiel finished with a 746 series Friday and was followed by Jon Rakoski (740), David Langer (703), Justin Veitch (694) and 2001 Team All-Events champion Ron Mohr (603). Supreme Deck of Grand Haven, Michigan, previously held the lead with 3,372, which included a 1,218 finish.
“Anytime you have success with a team, it’s much more fulfilling than doing it on your own,” McNiel said. “I got to experience that at Wichita State when we won the national title in 2015, and I hope this score holds, so I can experience it with these guys. It’s a magical thing when things are clicking, people are striking and everything starts happening. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and you cherish every moment, since you never know if it’s going to happen again.”
McNiel grew up around many legendary team bowlers from the Minneapolis area and eventually had the opportunity to join a pair of talented groups on the lanes at the USBC Open Championships, which is something he worked toward as a youth bowler.
From 2010-2016, their performances were consistent in the team event, including two top-10 finishes in Regular Team and three top-10 finishes in Team All-Events, but they never found the winner’s circle together.
Instead, McNiel went on one of the most memorable runs in tournament history, collecting three Regular All-Events titles and a Regular Doubles title during the same years. Along the way, he rolled two 300s and a record three 800s series. His 2,326 winning all-events total in 2010 also is a record.
He knows his personal success couldn’t have come without the support, camaraderie and communication those groups shared on the lanes, but those aren’t things that show on the leaderboard or in the record book.
McNiel’s doubles title in 2012 came with fellow southpaw Charles Vashaw, who was a Team All-Events champion in 2002 and 2006. In 2012, their Linds Lakers 1 team finished fourth in Team All-Events and sixth in Regular Team.
Friday’s performance was a total team effort and one that was incredibly special for the 36-year-old left-hander, who hasn’t been in the spotlight at the Open Championships since 2015, when he became the first bowler in history to win Regular All-Events three times (2010, 2012 and 2015).
“You don’t come to this tournament to win singles,” McNiel said. “You want to win team and Team All-Events. If this score holds, it would be pretty darn special.”
Since beginning the process of creating his own two-team group in 2017, finding the right combination of talent and personalities has been challenging. He certainly has seen first-hand what it takes, and the pieces seem to be falling into place.
Mohr is a Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Famer with decades of experience, and the group also includes USBC Gold coach and Super Senior Classic champion Mike Dias and Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour standout Lindsay Boomershine.
“It has been such a process,” McNiel said. “We had a core group for three years, then that kind of fell apart. It seems like every year, we have two or three new faces, and it has just been evolving. You try to find the right ingredients to create the right recipe, and it definitely showed today. It’s not just our five. It takes 10 people to keep a pair nice and play the lanes together when everyone buys in.”
Storm Products Inc. 2 had a stellar day, too, posting games of 981, 1,093 and 1,150 for a 3,224 total, which is ninth in Regular Team.
Boomershine paced the group with a 706 series and was joined by Ryan Burr (686), Zachary Vashaw (624), Dias (620) and Rex Johnson (588).
McNiel said he woke up unsure if he’d even be able to bowl three games due to a nagging injury to his left arm. All of the recent packing, lifting and moving led to a strained wrist, and the pain and discomfort have spread into his hand and fingers.
He used some over-the-counter medication and Biofreeze to treat his ailments, and the flurry of high-fives and handshakes Friday likely were done with his right hand, since the group will be returning to the lanes at the Bowling Plaza for doubles and singles on Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Their next target will be the 9,917 Team All-Events total posted by Supreme Deck. In order to get there, McNiel and his teammates will need to average 214.4 apiece over six games on the event’s second oil pattern.
“I didn’t know how today would go or how I’d even hold onto the ball, but I think it actually helped because I couldn’t get through the ball like I normally do,” said McNiel, who made his 15th tournament appearance and has a career average of 225.6. “I was favoring it. I didn’t know how I was going to get through one game, much less three, but somehow, I was able to get it done. If anything, though, it really focused me.”