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Local bowler Kalani Kepa'a recently won first place at the 2021 USBC Senior Championships

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAMI KEPA'A - Kalani and Tami Kepa'a pose with the trophy after Kalani's victory at the 2021 USBC Senior Championships.Kalani Kepa'a has built a solid reputation down at Madras Bowl & Pizza for his bowling prowess, but now he has the hardware to back it up.

Kepa'a recently won his division at the 2021 Senior Championships put on by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. The victory came at the end of a long weekend of bowling, with the tournament taking place over the span of four days from Aug. 10 to Aug. 13.

"I was kind of in awe," said Kepa'a. "I was pretty nervous."

"I've been to [the USBC national tournament] a couple of times, but I've never won it," he noted. "So, this is pretty great."

The Madras bowler won the 55-59 mixed division at the tournament, besting nearly 200 other competitors hailing from more than half the states across the country.

The path to glory started nearly a year ago for Kepa'a.

Back in October of last year, Kalani traveled south to Cottage Grove Bowl to take part in qualifying for the event. He entered that event with a clear goal and an analytical mind, carefully keeping track of how many pins he needed to advance to Las Vegas. He ended up finishing with the highest qualifying score among all the participants in Cottage Grove, securing his spot at nationals.

Nearly ten months later, the national tournament finally took place. The event was delayed multiple times due to COVID-19, the pandemic causing both the 2019 and 2020 editions of the tournament to be cancelled. The long layoff gave Kepa'a even more time to work on his game.

Once he arrived in Las Vegas, it was clear to Kepa'a that he was not alone in his quest. Besides Tami, his wife and fellow high school bowling coach, the stands were filled with friends and family from all over.

COURTESY PHOTO VIA TAMI KEPA'A - Kalani Kepa'a, center, said that his family made for 'the best cheering squad' at the USBC Senior Championships."I had the best cheering squad," said Kalani. "We had family from Washington, Hawai'i and Nevada there. We had friends from Port Angeles (Washington) fly down."

"That whole bowling alley knew his name by the time we were done," laughed Tami. "I'm sure that helped his motivation, plugging away each game."

Through the first day of qualifying, Kepa'a ranked fifth among the bowlers in his division. By the end of the second day, he had bumped himself up the second place, trailing the leader by just seven pins. As one of the top six finishers in his division, Kepa'a earned a spot in the championship bracket.

On Friday, Aug. 13, Kepa'a entered the championship series with his eyes on the trophy – and he did not come up empty. He did not just beat the competition, but instead raced past the field. His total pin count for the final round was 686, for an average game score of 228.7. With handicap and bonus points added, that score jumped up to 756 – more than 50 points higher than the second place finisher, John Farmer of Durham, North Carolina.

At the tournament, Kepa'a saved his best for last, both in the qualifying rounds and in the championship. In his third qualifying game, he bowled a 260-point game, which to that point was the third-highest single-game score of the event. In the final game of the championship round, Kepa'a bested that number, scoring 268 pins for what was by far the highest score of any bowler in that round. The next closest competitor in the last round was Walter Meding, of Milton, Delaware, who knocked down 236 pins.

Though Kepa'a was the only Oregonian to win his division at the USBC senior nationals, two others from around the state did bowl in the championship round of play. Kip Johnson, of Astoria, took third place in the 60-64 mixed bracket, while Frankie Dahl, of Redmond, finished sixth in the 75+ women's division.

As for Kalani, he does plan to defend his title in next year's USBC senior nationals, starting with regional qualifiers later this year --- though his quest for greatness is not confined to the bowling lanes. According to Tami, he has been improving his skills on the circle track at Madras Speedway, too.

After what Kepa'a just pulled off in a national tournament, don't be surprised if Kepa'a has more trophies to add to his collection before too long.

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