The Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam wrapped up the 2023 high school bowling season Monday at the Central Lanes Bowling Center in Tamuning.
The event started with boys and girls all-star games, then shifted to the step-ladder rounds, where the league’s top three boys and girls competed in one-game, winner-take all, knockout rounds.
In the boys competition, Harvest Christian Academy Eagles' Parker Ashland bowled his way to the coveted championship title. In a nervous, nail-biter, the Eagle knocked off Father Duenas Memorial School Friars’ Evan Duenas, 190-181.
“I just controlled my breath and bowled where I needed to bowl and hoped that it hit the pocket,” Ashland said.
On the ladies side of the alley, in an all-Islander championship game, John F. Kennedy High Schools’ Kamilah Leones defeated teammate Juliana Lagman, 145-104.
“I'm speechless! I’m not going to lie! It's crazy," Leones told The Guam Daily Post after having the gold medal draped around her neck. “I really enjoyed it because I got to bowl against my teammate. And we, honestly, had fun rather than competition. We are friends, not competitors.”
Lagman said that bowling in the finals was “fun” and she is so “proud,” to represent her school.
Throughout the 2023 season, JFK only had two girls on their roster and had to forfeit every one of their team competitions. But on the final day of competition, in a league with 31 girls, only two Islanders remained.
“These girls really, really worked hard for it,” said Charles “Mama Char” Catbagan, one of JFK’s coaches. “It was an interesting journey, only because there's only two of them. So we kind of wish there was a full team. But honestly, we made it work! And we got here! So here we are!”
In the Evan Duenas vs. Ashland finale, the Friar, who attends Tiyan High School but plays for FD, opened with a turkey. And, through all 10 frames, the defending IIAAG champ finished with only two open frames.
Although Evan Duenas was bowling at a high level, so was Ashland. Through his first six frames, Ashland threw a strike, two spares, and also roasted a turkey. He, like Evan Duenas, finished with two open frames but his effort was enough to earn the title.
If the two final matches weren’t exciting enough, an Islander vs. Islander showdowns and an Eagle knocking off a defending champion, the semifinals were games for the ages.
In a matchup that paired No. 2-seeded Eriana Ada, an Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougar, against No. 3-seeded Lagman, the JFK Islander headed into the final frame trailing by several pins. Never before had she wanted and needed a strike so badly. And, after carefully choosing her ball and calculating the oil pattern, she threw the most important strike of her career. As all 10 pins flew off the alley and the bowling center filled with the unmistakable, echoing sound of pins meeting their demise, Islanders coaches Catbagan, Corey Granillo and top-seeded Leones cheered in delight. Lagman, in an epic showdown, eliminated Ada, 132-123.
“I just think of it as one shot at a time,” Lagman said. “All my past shots, all my bad shots, and all the other shots that I threw, I just didn't think about that. And I just focused on that shot.”
A few alleys away, in another tremendous display of fight and spirit, the No. 2-seeded Ashland and No. 3-seeded Elijah Duenas were locked in a battle. Both student-athletes entered the match confidently, with a slight edge tipping to Elijah Duenas’ favor. Earlier in the day, in the two-match all-star game, where each bowler rolled four frames, he recorded three strikes and a spare.
Parlaying his good fortune into the semis, Elijah Duenas, a graduating senior who goes to Guam High School but plays for Harvest under the league’s affiliate rules, the 17-year old opened with two spares and two strikes. While Elijah Duenas was in the zone, the cat-bird seat if you will, Ashland struggled to find his rhythm. In his first four frames, the Eagle threw one spare and three open frames, including a shot that slipped out of his hand and, sheepishly, plopped into the gutter.
But in a sport based on consistency, momentum and streaks, Elijah Duenas’ game faltered and Ashland found his grove.
In the next five frames, Elijah Duenas bowled five open frames, none more costly than a double-line violation in the sixth frame. Despite bad luck and a couple of untimely errors, Elijah Duenas remained composed but was about to experience incredible poise and skill from his teammate and friend.
After the first ball of Ashland’s fifth frame, the dreaded 4-7-10 split remained. A difficult shot for the world’s best, the Eagle rifled his second ball toward the four and seven pins. And, as he had scripted in his mind, the pins collided and the seven pin tattooed the 10-pin. With glasses fallen cockeyed around his chin and a huge smile plastered across his face, Ashland let out a huge sigh of relief. At the time of the next-to-impossible spare, he didn’t realize those three pins he knocked down would earn him a berth into the finals.
“It was a really a huge shot,” Ashland said. “And in the moment, I was just surprised I got it. And I didn't even realize that I was back in the game.”
“I feel way too much emotion right now,” he added. “There was a lot happening in those two games and I just can't believe it!”
Heading into the 10th and final frame, a strike and spare chipped away at Elijah Duenas’ lead. But in the 10th frame, an open frame from Ashland gave Elijah Duenas hope. In Elijah Duenas’ final frame, he knocked down seven pins, cleaned them up with a spare, then finished with a strike. But as the final scores tallied, Ashland was declared the winner - by a mere three-pin differential.
“He really deserved that. I'm really proud of him,” Elijah Duenas said.