The final ranked event for the 2022 season has wrapped up with the conclusion of the Grand National Youth Eliminator at Caboolture Bowl in Queensland over the weekend.
The youth division was the focus as several juniors and youth bowlers from around the country attended the last event for 2022 to finish the year off strong on the national rankings.
Queenslander Jackson Buckingham claimed his first national title after winning the male division, whilst Samantha Clifton from New South Wales added her second crown to her growing resume in the female division.
After winning his first national title, Buckingham was stoked after sticking to a simple plan that helped deliver his first-place finish.
“I just focused on myself, and I didn’t worry about other scores,” explained Buckingham. “Played my own game, frame by frame”.
After a successful first trip away to New Zealand representing the country, Buckingham was also glad to get back into ranked events for the social benefits.
“It was great to go away to New Zealand this year, I made a lot of new friends, and now it’s great to catch up at ranked events”.
For Samantha Clifton, 2022 has been a fantastic year. After winning her first title at the Junior Sydney Cup, Clifton has also finished in the top ten positions for several junior and youth events. Now, Clifton has won her first youth division title.
“I feel pretty good,” said Clifton. “I qualified first which was a good, then I maintained that lead into stage two which gave me confidence, but there was a point in the matchplay I lost my confidence after a defeat, but I quickly regained the confidence after defeating Bridget and went on from there”.
The first stage saw bowlers complete ten qualifying games to make the top 12 to proceed to the next stage.
Jackson Buckingham led all qualifiers in the male division at the end of qualifying. Averaging an impressive 225.8, Buckingham would edge out local Jaydin Dunn for the top qualifying spot.
Spots for the top 12 were close, with the top 13 bowlers averaging over 200, which saw several high games completed. Youth division leader Bernie Grueso Jnr scored a 280 game in his sixth game to lead all high scores for the stage.
Samantha Clifton continued her impressive year in the female division by topping the field in qualifying. Averaging 196.4 over the ten games, the junior National Training Squad (NTS) member bowled a 257 in her seventh game to edge out fellow NTS members hot on her tail.
As in the male division, spots were close as bowlers aimed to fit into the top 12 to proceed into the next stage.
An additional four games were on the agenda for stage two, with bowlers striving to finish in the top 8 to proceed to the finals bracket.
Clifton continued her impressive bowling to hold the top spot heading into the finals. The quartet of Emily Bottomley, Tamika Pettigrew and Hannah Clark also held steady with their 2-4 positions after qualifying.
Ballina superstar Blake Walsh made his move in stage two and overtook Jackson Buckingham as the top seed heading into finals. After finishing fifth in qualifying, Walsh came out firing with games of 256, 212 and 257 to make the jump. Bernie Grueso Jnr moved from 9th to 4th to set up a blockbuster finals bracket.
Like the Australian football code systems, the finals bracket would see the top 8 bowlers compete in a 1v4, 2v3 qualifying final and 5v8 and 6v7 in an elimination final. The first stage of finals would involve two games with the scores accumulated to find the winners.
Samantha Clifton had her first slip-up for the tournament going down to Hannah Clark 411-371, while Emily Bottomley booked her preliminary final spot with a close win over third-ranked Tamika Pettigrew 358-350.
The elimination finals were as close as possible, with Tasmanian Bridget Perkins edging Lilly Wilson 358-356 and fellow Tasmanian Sarah Pennicott winning by a single pin over local Katy Melton 362-361.
“My mental game slid a bit on day two, but resilience was the key to getting back into contention,” said Clifton.
Bernie Grueso Jnr would continue his climb after defeating number one seed Blake Walsh 490-414, and local Jaydin Dunn would beat Jackson Buckingham in the other qualifying final 433-427.
“I got a bit worried,” explained Buckingham. “I struggled a bit and couldn’t find the pocket, but I remained confident as I was throwing the ball well”.
In the elimination matches, South Australian Liam Cochrane would defeat Jordan Harrold 377-322, while Julian Dinham from New South Wales would book his spot in the next stage, defeating Queenslander Matthew Purser 471-427.
Dinham would lose the first game to Purser 172-188 before going close to a perfect game in the second, finishing on 299 and defeating Purser, who closed on a 239 game.
The winners of the qualifying final (QF) would receive a bye as the losers of the QF’s would face the winners of the elimination matches. The format would revert to one game matches for the rest of the tournament.
Samantha Clifton would strike back and defeat Bridget Perkins in a close, low-scoring game 158-155 before Tamika Pettigrew defeated Sarah Pennicott 203-152.
In the male division, Dinham would continue his streak by defeating and knocking out number one seed Blake Walsh in a 203-185 match, and Buckingham would end fellow junior NTS bowler Liam Cochrane’s campaign in a 220-196 final.
Bernie Grueso Jnr’s tournament would come to a close in the preliminary final against Jackson Buckingham after going down in a heartstopping 215-208 match. However, Buckingham’s grand final opponent would be the bowler on a streak at the right time – Julian Dinham after the bowler from New South Wales would easily defeated Jaydin Dunn 236-163 in the other match.
In the female preliminary finals, Clifton would defeat Emily Bottomley 185-156, and Queenslander Hannah Clark would book her grand final ticket defeating Tamika Pettigrew 194-151.
The final four were set and ready for the last opportunity for a title in 2022.
Samantha Clifton would defeat Hannah Clark 210-160, while Buckingham ended Dinham’s dream run in a very tight 212-204 final score.
The future is bright for both the champions as they will return to the lanes as junior bowlers in 2023, with both keen to replicate the impressive years they have had and strive for improvement.
“I’ll be bowling more youth events next year, all the junior events, and the goal will be to make the cut for every event,” explained Buckingham.
“I’m pretty young and reaching my goals of winning tournaments I have wanted to win for the last couple of years, so I can see myself improving more and hopefully winning more,” said Clifton. “I’ll be focussing on my targeting, my mental game, and physical strength to help with endurance. It’s all the little details. Little things make the big differences”.
Credit to the Grand National Youth Eliminator Facebook page for the images.