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Young guns impress at Buffalo Tour stop

The shelf life for most of the stars of professional bowling can be long. Players such as Walter Ray Williams Jr., Pete Weber, Parker Bohn III, Norm Duke, and Tom Baker have been on the sport's main stage for a long time. That doesn't mean the established pros aren't being pushed by newcomers coming along.

One of the developments of the Denny's PBA Etonic Championship and the PBA Women's Series event, going on this week at AMF Thruway Lanes, is the rise to prominence of some new faces.

Good examples are Thursday's top qualifiers, Todd Book in the Etonic and Joy Esterson in the Women's Series. Another is Rhino Page, a youth bowling, collegiate and Team USA star who is driving toward a Tour exemption.

Esterson took more steam out of any argument that the top women players do not deserve to be on the same stage as the men. When the day was over Thursday, the best score in the house belonged to the 27-year-old from Annapolis, Md.

A collegiate star at Morehead State in Kentucky, where Liz Johnson and Kelly Kulick also were standouts, Esterson is not one of the big names among the 16 women in the series, and she qualified only 14th in the Women's Series Trials during the summer. She soon may become one, however.

Although the Women's Series is a separate event, the female stars bowl right alongside the men. There is one woman and three men in 16 groupings on the lanes during the qualifier. The women are bowling the same Scorpion oil pattern as the men, so Esterson's score was no fluke.

"It's exciting," said Esterson, who was still in college when the old women's pro tour was going. "Bowling with the men has helped me (in the qualifier). You're not bowling with bowlers you're competing against so you focus on yourself and on the lanes.

"The men have been very encouraging and they've all been very nice."

Book is a Tour rookie at the ripe age of 36. He earned his exemption by finishing first in the the Tour Trials last spring. Thursday night, he came roaring down the stretch to overtake nonexempt qualifier Edwards VanDaniker Jr. and Patrick Allen for the No. 1 seed in match play. He shot up the board with a 1,805 seven-game block after standing in 21st place after the first seven games.

"I made a couple ball changes and made a surface change and that opened the lanes wide open," said Book, who, half-kiddingly, describes himself as a "strike machine."

"It was just one of those times where it really came together," Book said. "I get in a rhythm and I turn the switch on. It's one of those zones we all talk about it. When you get in it you just try to stay in it."

Book, from the Pensacola area in the Florida Panhandle, is no stranger to success despite his rookie status. He won the Super Hoinke in Cincinnati in 2005 and last May set a USBC men's record for highest six-game series when he bowled a 1,680 in Pensacola.

Page did not attend the Tour Trials because he would have had to give up his Team USA status. However, this summer after Team USA's ranks were opened to professionals, the former Kansas University star decided to turn pro and enter as many Denny's PBA Tour qualifiers as he can as long as they don't interfere with his Team USA obligations. He could gain a Tour exemption if he achieves the highest point total this season among nonexempt bowlers.

"There is a lot to learn here," said Page, whose 28 sanctioned 300 games is a USBC youth record for males. "These guys are really, really good. I just need to learn how to catch the transitions a lot quicker and have the right equipment."

Page had the first 300 game of the week in the qualifier. Last weekend, he defeated Canada's George Lambert, 191-179, to win the Bud Light Challenge VII at Thruway.

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Etonic tidbits

Jack Jurek was the only one of the four Western New York pros to make it to match play in the Etonic. Brad Angelo was scratched because of a back injury. Joe Ciccone of Buffalo was 37th in the qualifying round of 64, finishing 23 pins off the cut. Buffalo native Tom Baker, the PBA Senior Tour Player of the Year, was never a factor in qualifying. He was 43rd after the first seven-game block and finished 56th with a 218.36 average. Games of 163, 189 and 199 at night doomed Baker on a day when it took a 227 average to make the cut.

Among the notables to miss the Etonic cut to 32 were: 2006 GEICO and last year's Etonic runner-up Doug Kent of Newark, Ryan Shafer of Horseheads, Tommy Jones, USBC Masters champion Sean Rash, Dydo Japan Cup champion Mike Koivuniemi and Steve Jaros, who was third here last year.

Walter Ray Williams Jr., the all-time leader with 43 Tour titles, was among those who did make it to match play after finishing 40th and 42nd the last two Tour stops here.

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Pin chasers

*Terri Hearn and Janice Stephens were the winners in the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Women's Senior Singles Tournament at Airport Lanes last Sunday. Hearn captured the Class A (ages 65 and over) title with a 700. Stephens' 740 topped Class B (50-64). The winners will receive paid entry plus expenses for the New York State Women's Senior Championship.

*Ike Layton Jr., a tractor-trailer driver for Conway Freight, won his second Amateur Bowlers Tour title with a 236-175 victory over George Spencer at AMF Lancaster Lanes. To get to the final, Layton Jr. topped Robert Norgren, 224-213, and Spencer eliminated Steve Terranova, 237-230. In the final, Layton Jr. struck in six of the first seven frames to cruise to victory.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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