Watts left wanting more at nationals

Lucas Punkari

While a strong showing on a national stage is nothing to sneeze at, local bowler Jeff Watts returned from last week’s Canadian Open 5-pin Bowling Championships in Gatineau, Que. wanting a little bit more.
The 23-year-old, making his first-ever appearance at the event in representing Northern Ontario, finished the four-day competition with a fifth-place result after qualifying for the “stepladder” playoff round Saturday.
“I was really hoping for a medal and I definitely felt that I could of had one,” Watts said.
“To finish fifth isn’t bad at all as it could of been worse, I guess,” he noted.
“But at the same time, I was shooting for a little bit more.”
Following a 30-game preliminary round, which was held in 10-game blocks last Wednesday to Friday, Watts sat in fourth place with a total of 7,345 pins (an average of 244.8).
But his medal quest came to a quick end Saturday afternoon in the first “stepladder” game, falling 290-250 to fifth-seeded Varian Layne of Nova Scotia.
“That was a tough one,” Watts sighed.
“I didn’t get off to the best start in the world in the first couple of frames,” he recalled. “And he [Layne] started off with a spare and four strikes in a row, and just like that I was behind.
“After that, I started throwing strikes and corners, and while I was gaining on him, I just couldn’t get a string of strikes together.
“But by that time, he [Layne] was just kind of keeping up with whatever I was doing to stay in the lead,” Watts added.
Shawn Haley (Quebec), who qualified first with a 7,797 total following the preliminary round, went on to capture the men’s singles title by defeating Brad Rusnak (Manitoba) in the final.
Watts’ journey to get into the “stepladder” playoffs was a wild affair, moving up and down the standings before settling into fourth spot on the final day of the preliminary round.
“I thought that the first day [Wednesday] was one of my better days,” he remarked.
“It was a little bit of a struggle to get used to the lanes, as they were a little bit different than the lanes we have here, and I had a couple of bad games in there,” he said.
“But I was also lucky to have a some really nice scores at the end of the day and I was able to move into second place.
“The other two days were a bit of a struggle to get some high scores as the lanes were pretty tough,” Watts added.
“But I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to make it into the playoffs.
“With about three games to go on the Friday, I was pretty confident that it was all over and done with and I was in the ‘stepladder,’ and that it was just a matter of where I was going to be positioned at the end of it,” he noted.
One of the games that helped Watts qualify for the “stepladder” was a 408 he rolled late in the day on Wednesday, which ended up being the highest single game of the tournament.
“I don’t know if there was a secret to that or anything like that,” joked Watts, who earned an award for his high score.
“In games like that, it’s about getting off to a good start and getting lucky a couple of times, and before you know it, you start to rattle off a few strikes in a row.
“Then you start to get a little more serious, and you begin to try extra harder to keep that roll going,” he explained.
Although his final placing left a little to be desired, Watts’ first trip to the Canadian Open was one he’ll certainly remember.
“One of the things that stood out for me from the whole week was the chance to bowl and meet a different group of people,” said Watts, who is now preparing to travel to St. John’s, Nfld. with fellow local bowler Bob Petawanaqueb for the five-pin Masters nationals at the end of June.
“It was a slightly different format from the other events that I have been to in the past, but it was basically the same thing,” he noted.
“All you have to do is to just go out and bowl.”
Nathalie Parent (Quebec) took home the women’s singles crown.
Tammy Walchuk of Thunder Bay, representing Northern Ontario, finished 10th in the 11-player field with a 6,439 total in the preliminary round (214.6 average).
In team play, Northern Ontario, represented by Cambrian North (Sudbury), had its best showing in ladies’ action, finishing one point out of a “stepladder” berth.
Both the men’s and mixed teams, from Thunder Bay, failed to advance from the preliminary round.