Ranked Recap: Sydney Youth Cup

By Matt Stevens
May 25, 2021

A pair of hard-working youth bowlers were crowned the champions of the Sydney Youth Cup on the weekend at Tenpin City, NSW. In the first ranked event for the youth division in 2021, Emily Johnston and Jesse Ellis would both capture the first national titles of their careers.

The Sydney Youth Cup is an event that has male, female and an under 15 division in play over three days of running the event. This recap focuses on the ranked part of the event – the male and female divisions.

One day for practice, one for qualifying and one for finals. The event’s format would require bowlers to bowl consistently throughout all stages, with pinfall carrying all the way through.

TBA High-Performance Manager Mike Griffith and Youth National Training Squad (NTS) head coach Geoff Bowness were two interested onlookers at the event. The experienced duo noticing the lane pattern had an impact on results.

“For those who braved the event, with an oiling pattern that basically had every board with a different oiling length and every board with a different oil volume per board, this is way tougher than a high scoring event”, explained Bowness. “It required pin-point accuracy and ball speed accuracy to match the lane you bowled on over every lane change”.

“Stand up and be proud, I say to all bowlers, because those who knock the event, the pattern or whatever, have no clue how hard the athletes participated through 21 games. I saw a brilliant group of young athletes give their all – congratulations to everyone,” said Bowness.

Mike Griffith adding “Across the field, there were several great performances, making for a strong event requiring perseverance to win”.

Female Division


Emily Johnston is an accomplished youth bowler. The local Tenpin City bowler has progressed and hit many milestones throughout her 10+ year TBA pathway, yet one achievement has alluded her.

A highly decorated bowler in the Junior and Youth pathways, Johnston has achieved State titles, been a proud NSW bowler for representative teams, and even claimed medals for her country at overseas competitions. The 21-year-old has claimed four silver medals in Asian Schools competitions wearing the Australian uniform.

The achievements are impressive, yet there has been a notable absence from her resume – a national title. Not anymore. Emily has finally crossed that milestone off the list, and it feels good!

“Absolutely amazing! It’s an honour to have my name in the history books, and I’m just so glad I was able to have the chance to compete in my last year”.

Do not get it twisted. Johnston has always been a potent bowler. Always a constant threat for a podium finishes in all events she enters. The dependable performer has provided impressive performances over a decade long stretch, always warranting a spot on the NTS.

In her final year as a youth bowler, the 21-year-old entered the first youth division event of the year with a change of mindset, a more mature one.

“Normally, before a tournament, I tend to stress out a little bit and try to overprepare everything”, explained Johnston. “This event, I was completely relaxed. I let the cards fall where they may and just let it play out. I didn’t look at any scores, who I was in the squad with etc. I was really laid back this weekend, and maybe that’s what I needed for the last ten years!”.

The development in mindset has formed naturally. With a busy life off the lanes, Emily does not have a chance to think too deeply into things on the lanes like she used to.

“With only so much time between studying a Sport and Exercise Science degree and being involved in placement, exams, assignments, and work, I don’t have much time to think about anything else,” laughed Emily.

“I’m sure many people can vouch for me when I say I’m a perfectionist. Years ago, I would strive for a new best every tournament and be always left disappointed. In this one, I left a split or solid 8 pin almost every game and laughed it off every time. Having a mature approach going into it was key and not expecting the best from such a difficult condition”.


Emily Johnston would be the top qualifier after the eight qualifying games on day one. Using her home bowl advantage to good use, Johnston averaged 190 over the eight games collecting 1,520 pins. Close behind was defending champion Grace Fahy from Victoria. The Bendigo Bowling product finishing 36 pins behind Emily on 1,484 pins. A South Australia pair of Simone La Vars and Brooklyn Brooks would round out the top four staying close to the top two with 1,468 and 1,483.

On top of the mindset switch, Emily has implemented some significant changes to her game.

“Only recently I changed my entire release and took off my wrist guard of 8 years”, explained Emily. “I worked hard to improve my release, which helped on such a challenging pattern. Being consistent with speed and angles was key on the day and a hard barrier to overcome”.

Stage one

The top 16 bowlers from qualifying would receive six games to put their case forward for a top 8 position that would progress to the Matchplay finals.

Simone La Vars would produce a handy 1,153 pins over the six games to leap to the top spot leading into the Matchplay finals. Johnston and Fahy would remain consistent and only move down a place each on the ladder to accommodate the surge from La Vars.

Another Logan City Tenpin bowler in Emily Bottomley would move up from qualifying to round out the top 4. Brooklyn Brooks would fall to seventh place but do enough to cement a position in the Matchplay finals.


Matchplay would see bonus pins come into play. 20 pins for a win, 10 for a draw, making all encounters crucial in the last reach for a podium finish.

From Zone Bowling Tuggeranong in the A.C.T, Bianca Shima would make the day’s most significant move. Shima would receive the last spot in the Matchplay finals, clinging onto 8th place at the end of Stage 1. The head-to-head Matchplay format was looking to suit the A.C.T bowler as she collected 80 bonus pins from four wins from the seven games. The performance providing Shima with a podium finish as 3rd placegetter.

Simone La Vars would struggle in the last section slipping from the top spot to the 8th position. The slide allowing two of the more consistent bowlers from the weekend to battle it out for the title – Emily Johnston and Grace Fahy.

The scheduled matchup between the two would come game five of seven. Johnston would defeat Fahy 201-183 and collect the ever-important 20 bonus pins with the victory. Fahy would end the day strong with a 234 game, collecting 100 bonus pins from her five of seven wins, and finish on 3,983 pins for the tournament. Johnston would do one better, winning six of seven, 120 bonus pins and crack the 4,080-pin mark to claim the title by 97 pins over her closest rival.

After countless attempts and getting so close many times throughout the journey, Emily admitted to experiencing frustration by not holding a national title.

“It definitely has. There have been many times where I just wanted to throw in the towel,” explained Emily. “Last year was especially hard because it meant that 2021 was my last chance at a Youth win. Still, I always wanted to pick myself up and give it one more attempt, that means I still have a love for it which I don’t think will ever disappear”.

The challenges experienced, like anything in life, have taught Emily some crucial lessons about perspective and helped in her development. Not only as a bowler but for life in general.

“Since starting the circuit in 2014, it has made me put so much more focus on the mental aspect of bowling. The appreciation of it as a sport and the smaller aspects of preparation, motivation and exercise,” explained Emily. “Bowling isn’t the thing that defines me. It is just one aspect of who I am, and that is the beauty of it. Once it becomes the only thing in your life, it almost consumes you. I had to learn how to have a healthy relationship with bowling, and it wasn’t until I was forced to have a 5-month break because of COVID-19 that I achieved that”.

In her last year as a Youth bowler, Emily is gearing up to attend ANC 2021 and bowling in the TBA21 Cup and Challenge.

“I’m very excited for ANC!” said Emily. “It will be my 6th and final year competing in Youth. It will be sad when it comes to an end, but I am just happy we can compete. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of Youth, and this new format will be certainly interesting”.

A 9-time NSW representative across President’s Shield and Youth competitions, 2021 will mark the 10th time Emily dons her beloved sky-blue NSW uniform at a National championship. The experiences and opportunity to represent her state, something she never takes for granted.

“I have made lifelong friends, honorary bowling parents, rekindled friendships that were lost for years as well as winning a few medals along the way”.

Her NTS coach Geoff Bowness, also her personal coach, will guide her on her 10th cap with NSW at ANC2021. Her relationship with the coach and those involved at the state level is one thing that Emily is exceptionally grateful for.

“Geoff and manager Roselee are the heart of the NSW Youth team and breathe passion into everyone who joins”, explained Emily. “To have continued to run the team for as long as they have, it shows their love for the sport, and it is truly an honour to be part of this team”.

If you have ever seen Emily compete on the lanes, there is a good chance you would have run into her number one supporter, Fiona, her mum. Emily, always grateful for the presence and support of her number one fan.

“Thank you, Fiona Johnston! for Coming to every tournament but one in seven years. To finally watch me win a national title. I love you so much!”.

Congratulations Emily, on claiming your first national title!

Male Division


Ten years after going bowling for the first time, Jesse Ellis now has his name in the history books as a national titleholder winning the Sydney Youth Cup on the weekend.

“To win my first nationally ranked event title feels unbelievable”, explained Jesse. “It was always something I strived and wanted to do after bowling so many ranked events and being involved in the state and national bowling scene. It may not show in my face, but deep down, I really wanted to win a ranked event”.

Jesse would put on a dominant show leading most of the way all weekend and holding back a fast-finishing Nixon Chan to take out his first major win.


Jesse Ellis would finish the top qualifier averaging 215.5 over the eight qualifying games, with a 1,724 pinfall. Fellow Youth NTS bowler Nixon Chan would finish in 2nd position with 1,676, 48 pins behind the leader. Talented NSW bowler Jordan Dinham would finish in the third position with 1,607 and defending champion Jackson Botham in 4th position with 1,606 over the eight games.

Stage One

Things up the top would remain unchanged as both Ellis and Chan remained one and two at the end of the six-game stage one section. Ellis would put in a solid performance bowling very strongly, producing five 200+ games of the six. In form Queensland Junior Cup winner Blake Walsh would make his move bowling strongly in the section and move up to the third position from seventh, heading to the Matchplay finals.

Matchplay Finals

Blake Walsh would continue his strong bowling in the Matchplay section claiming 80 bonus points from four wins. The Ballina boy would claim yet another podium. This time in a Youth event finishing with 4,303 pins over the 21 games following impressive podium results in Junior and Open division events.

It is hard not to mention the play by Bevan Brooke in the Matchplay section. The bowler from Horsham, Victoria, would perform superbly in the last section winning all seven of his matches, claiming a maximum of 140 bonus pins. In the end, it was the two bowlers that showed consistency throughout the whole weekend that would battle it out for the crown.

After leading for the entire tournament, Ellis would have a string of ‘not-so-great’ games, allowing Nixon to capitalise. Nixon would finally move ahead of Jesse in the 5th of 7 games.

“He was now five pins ahead with two games to go. To say I was worried was an understatement. However, I knew that winning this second last match would be vital to winning as Nixon was my last head-to-head match,” explained Jesse.

“I kept my cool and just focused on what I had to do to get the best ball reaction on the pair to score well and win the match. I tried to block everything out, especially what Nixon was bowling and just focused on the match and winning to give me an edge in the last game”.

Jesse would win his sixth game 202-200 against defending champion Jackson Botham, the result easing the pressure and see the Queenslander carry a 60-pin lead over Nixon heading to their last battle in game seven.

Nixon would win the clash between the two claiming the 20-pin bonus, but a 188-182 score line would not be enough to shift the order of the standings. Jesse Ellis was the 2021 Sydney Youth Cup champion. The two-hander from Queensland was over the moon with the result.

“Considering I did not bowl the best today; I was lucky I had an excellent lead from day one. My spares were not the best. I just had to grind it out, I had some low games in there, but I was still winning those games. I eventually found a good line and was able to strike a lot and produce some good games,” explained Jesse.

The rapid rise of Jesse in the Youth bowling scene has been an incredible journey to follow.

The journey beginning after a primary school PE teacher put a team in to compete for the Primary Inter-School Challenge – a school-based competition run by TBAQ (Tenpin Bowling Association of Queensland). The initial experience enough to hook the ‘sport’s mad lover’ into bowling for good.

“I started bowling a league at Capalaba and didn’t start taking bowling more seriously till about 2015-2016”, explained Jesse. “I got some one-on-one coaching from Jayden Leming, started bowling little tournaments and then my first ranked event was not until 2017’s QLD Junior Cup. I started bowling because I enjoyed it, and sport was my thing”.

An example of how ‘hooked’ Jesse is to the game is to understand his involvement in the sport in a typical week.  

Jesse bowls two leagues at Logan City Tenpin on top of regular specific practice sessions. On top of bowling, Jesse works at Logan City Tenpin at the front counter, is the mechanic behind the lanes, and is one of the valued bowlers who provides coaching services at the centre.

“I do one-on-one coaching, I have done a lot of Bowl Patrol and Bowl Abilities programs, and I work in the pro shop and drill balls. Think of me as the bowling jack-of-all-trades, apart from being a manager or owner of a centre, there isn’t much I haven’t done”.

For Jesse, the reason for his love of the sport is simple.

“It’s the events and competition I love. I also love seeing everyone far and wide to come and bowl, and it’s so awesome to see people from across Australia compete at a single event, especially in these ever-changing times,” explained Jesse.

Ellis would show some terrific form in late 2019 and early pre-covid 2020 with several top 10 finishes in ranked events. Yet, it was a non-ranked event that provided a skip in the step for Jesse. The Mackay Open. The event drew high interest and was attended by several high-profile bowlers such as the King of the North – Jarrod Langford.

The winners would be Jesse and Bianca Flanagan. The Queensland Ladies Classic winner from last week and now Jesse winning the Sydney Youth Cup may prove the Mackay Open is a popular event moving forward. To add to the coincidental unfolding, Bianca is Jesse’s coach. The experience in Mackay, one to remember for Jesse.

“Winning the Mackay Open last year is something that I will never forget”, explained Jesse. “It definitely helped my confidence, knowing that I had won before and telling myself that I can do it again. Even though it was a completely different format and an adult event, it still gave me confidence for Sydney Youth knowing that I had a real chance at winning, especially after bowling well after qualifying on some tough conditions”.

Jesse is set to enjoy more events and competition soon, with the Australian National Championship around the corner.

“I am very excited to be on Queensland’s Youth and Rachuig teams for the ANC 2021 this year,” said Jesse. “It feels like forever as it’s usually only once or twice a year there was an opportunity to represent your state, so it’s always a good feeling”.

Now into his third year on the Youth NTS, the 21-year-old has endured a unique and frustrating introduction to the NTS world thanks to COVID-19.

“It does feel weird knowing that there is no international competition for the foreseeable future. It was tough to grasp knowing that at the beginning of 2020, I was bowling very well and, in my opinion, was in contention for selection for teams that year”.

With a strong desire to represent his country, Jesse now focuses on only what he can control and that is continuing to bowl and learn from his NTS involvement.

“We have done many different things in the NTS with Geoff over the past year and a half”, explained Jesse. “From watching videos, different training techniques or games to help us, either with our physical or mental game. Geoff is always there if we need another opinion or guidance. He is full of knowledge and always has something new to offer us in the NTS”.

No doubt Jesse will be one to watch in 2021 and beyond. With a narrowed focus and consistent results, the desired outcome of wearing the green and gold will look after itself.

Under 15s

One of three Dinham’s bowling at the event and turning 13 on the day of the practice sessions, Julian Dinham would claim third position shooting 2,756 over the 15-game schedule for the un15 division.

Junior NTS representative Nicholas Rajkovic would lead the under 15 division after stage one averaging an impressive 197.5 over the six-game section. The Victorian would have to settle for runner up overall shooting 2,980, 15 pins behind local Tenpin City bowler Sean Lam.

After sitting third in the first section of eight games, Lam would come out to play in the Matchplay section. The promising 15-year-old would go undefeated and claim maximum 140 pins shooting up the top of the table. Lam would finish with 2,995 pins and claim his first tournament title winning the under 15 division.

“I started off ok yesterday, it was a bit up and down, today I just had to make sure I kept sparing and closing those frames” explained Sean. “This is my first major win – it’s really exciting and I’m really happy I got this one today”.

What’s in the bag?

Emily Johnston

I used my old Daredevil (Rotogrip) and my Nirvana (Brunswick) during qualifying. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Nirvana as it was the one that I won my first international medal with in Malaysia. For day 2 I needed a change though, I recently bought an old Physix (Storm) and used it for the first time during practice for matchplay. With the box finish it worked a treat and the new ball smell wasn’t too bad either!

Jesse Ellis

“I managed to mainly throw only 3 balls this weekend: Phase 2, Iq Tour and the Astrophysix. Phase 2 and Iq for qualifying and on the Sunday was a mix of all 3 but mainly the Astro and Iq. Having limited balls also I thought was an advantage as having limited choice meant I had to adjust for the balls to match up to the lanes right and have those high scores”.