PYA bowlers Ayers and Tillman go to Jr. Gold Tourney

Rob Maeske
Penn Yan Academy freshman Anella Tillman and alumna Kari Ayers recently participated in the Junior Gold Championship bowling tournament in Indianapolis.

PENN YAN – Two local athletes, Penn Yan Academy alumni Kari Ayers and freshman Anella Tillman, recently participated in the Junior Gold Championship bowling tournament in Indianapolis.

The Junior Gold is an annual bowling tournament that hosts the top male and female youth bowlers in the nation. The tournament is split into eight divisions: Under 12, Under 15, Under 18 and Under 20, with each age group into additional divisions by gender. Both Ayers and Tillman also competed in the 2019 tournament held in Detroit, though 2020's tourney was cancelled due to COVID. This year marked Ayers' fourth appearance in the Junior Gold, as she competed in 2017 in Cleveland and 2018 in Dallas.

Potential competitors in the tournament are required to qualify, at their own expense, in a series of locally held tournaments. These attempts may be made as many times as the bowler wants up until the Junior Gold's registration deadline. Tillman related her experience playing through several tournaments in Rochester to earn her qualifying position. 

Once a spot has been secured in the tournament, bowlers compete in four days of qualifying rounds in different venues, where they are placed on lanes with varying oil patterns, challenging bowlers to adapt on the fly. After qualifiers, the top 64 bowlers move on to the advancing rounds, which cut the pool of competitors down to 32 and then the top 16 who enter the tournament proper. Ayers narrowly missed the top 16 cutoff in the 2019 tourney, where she finished in 21st place.

After the qualifying rounds and two advancing rounds, Ayers entered the U20 Girls division match-play round as the #16 seed versus the tourney's #1 seed Mabel Cummins. Ayers lost that match to Cummins 390-326. As the tournament is a double elimination format, Ayers was still eligible to play in the elimination bracket, where she won in the first round against Ashley Morrow 372-355. As Cummins had lost the second round of the Winners' Bracket, Ayers and Cummins were once again matched up to see who would get the chance to advance. Ayers again lost to Cummins, this time a much closer 360-341, finally eliminating Kari from the tournament. 

Despite the loss, former coach Mindy Johnson was quick to point out that Ayers' performance in the tournament "puts her in a very elite class of U20 female bowlers in the country."

Anella Tillman, who will be a freshman at PYA this year, entered the U15 Girls division of the tournament. In the qualifying rounds, Tillman placed 71st out of 298 bowlers in the first round. Anella moved up to 30th in the second round, fell one spot to 31st after the third round and finished 62nd in the final round, which unfortunately disqualified her from advancing further. Tillman had finished in 30th place in the U12 Girls division in 2019.

Speaking of her experiences in this year's Junior Gold Championship, Tillman said, "[The tournament] was fun because you get to meet people from all over the country and it's a good opportunity to bowl against people with different abilities.

"There's college coaches there who can watch you talk to you if they think you're good and they're interested in you coming to their college and that's exciting. It's just a fun experience to get to go to."

Said Mindy Johnson, "I am very proud of both of these talented young ladies."