INDIANAPOLIS – Larielle Tharps of Orlando, Florida, and Ernesto Reynoso of Folsom, California, topped all challengers and emerged national champions in the 15-and-under division at the 2023 Junior Gold Championships.

In what was arguably the most exciting title match of this year’s tournament, Larielle captured the U15 girls title by topping Macy Jones of Shobonier, Illinois, (10-7) in a one-ball roll-off after the two players finished 10 frames tied at 226.

Larielle opted to begin the roll-off on the right lane, which was where she struck on her fill ball just moments earlier to force the extra session.

Wasting no time, Larielle calmly stepped up and delivered another flush strike, which Macy needed to match in order to extend the roll-off and keep her national championship dreams alive.

Macy’s shot appeared to be on target as it raced down the lane, but it wound up hooking high through the head pin, leaving the 4-7-10 split and ending the match in Larielle’s favor.

The win was especially gratifying for Larielle because she had come so close twice before, grabbing a runner-up finish in the U12 girls division in 2021 and finishing in the top five in U15 action last year in Grand Rapids.

“This feels wonderful because it makes it clear that all the time and practice I put in this past year has paid off,” Larielle said.

Early on, it looked like Larielle was going to enjoy a smooth and easy path to the title as she used an opening four-bagger to jump out to a 42 pin lead over Macy just four frames into the match.

Larielle’s pace would slow from there, however, with her striking just twice over the course of the next five frames.

Macy, meanwhile, recovered from an open in the fourth frame by notching a four-bagger of her own in frames five through eight to cut Larielle’s lead down to just 10 pins heading into the 10th frame.

Feeling the momentum shifting in her favor, Macy delivered three must-have strikes in the tenth to put even more weight upon Larielle’s shoulders.

Nevertheless, as Larielle stepped up for her own 10th frame, her destiny rested solely in her own hands.

If she struck on her first ball, she would win. If she didn’t, she’d have to convert the spare and strike on the fill ball to tie.

Larielle’s first shot in the tenth hit the pocket, but it left a flat 10 pin, meaning the right-hander would have to make the spare and strike to push the match to a roll-off.

Showing the moxie of a player more than twice her age, Larielle did just that, covering the 10 pin with ease and then delivering a no-doubt strike to force the roll-off she’d go on to win.

Although she appeared perfectly calm throughout those heart-stopping frames, afterward, Larielle admitted to feeling a lot more pressure than she was letting on.

“Going into the 10th frame, my nerves were at an all-time high,” Larielle said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I just tried to breath and trust my ball. Thankfully, I was able to spare and strike.

“I took the opportunity to go first in the roll-off to apply the pressure so that I wouldn’t have all of it on myself. I was hesitant on that last shot on whether it would hold or not, but thankfully it did.”

It certainly did, and that allowed Larielle to finally break through and collect the Junior Gold victory that had so narrowly escaped her twice before.

“When I realized I’d won, my first thought was ‘wow, I can’t believe I did this,’” Larielle said. “This is just so awesome and amazing; it’s all that I’ve ever wished for, and I’m so glad that it finally happened.”

Macy earned the right to battle Larielle for the title by defeating No. 2 seed Anna Antony of Farmington, Connecticut, 212-161, in the semifinals.

Anna bowled amazing all week long enroute to the second seed; unfortunately, she got off to a slow start on the TV pair, opening the first three frames to allow Macy to quickly jump out to a 64 pin lead.

As expected, Anna kept battling until the very end, but she was simply unable to erase the damage and was forced to settle for a third-place finish.

U15 Boys
In just his third appearance, Ernesto reached the Junior Gold winner’s circle for the first time by defeating top seed Matteo Quintero of Smyrna, Tennessee, 237-198.

Although Matteo, who won the 2021 U12 boys title, was the player with previous Junior Gold stepladder finals experience, Ernesto looked like the seasoned veteran on this day, delivering a clutch six-bagger in frames four through nine to keep Matteo at arm’s length.

As expected, Matteo fought from start to finish; however, when his attempted conversion of the 2-4-5-7 left the 5 pin standing, resulting in an open frame in the seventh, Ernesto’s lead was just too big to overcome.

That allowed Ernesto to secure the victory and become the newest U15 boys national champion.

The victory capped off a long and challenging week for Ernesto, but the outcome made it all worthwhile.

“This week was a long grind, so I knew I needed to stay patient and make my spares,” Ernesto said. “That approach allowed me to qualify second, get through the advancers rounds and make the show.

“Once I reached the stepladder, I knew that I needed to stay patient, not let the nerves get the best of me and make my best shots. I did that, and that’s what allowed me to be standing here holding this trophy.”

In addition to the trophy, this week’s stellar effort allowed Ernesto to earn a spot on the 2024 Junior Team USA Developmental Team, and that meant just as much to him as the Junior Gold title.

“The trophy and the Team USA jacket are about equally special to me,” Ernesto said. “I was happy with whatever happened on TV because I had already earned the jacket. To be on Junior Team USA and get the win makes this even better. Honestly, once I’d realized I’d won, I was like ‘wow, there’s no way I just did that.’”

But he did, and he made the lanes look fairly easy in the process.

Before shooting 237 against Matteo in the title match, Ernesto rattled off a seven-bagger in frames four through 10 to defeat No. 2 seed Landon Dreibelbis of Ashland, Ohio, 246-200, in the semifinals.

Landon recorded eight strikes during that battle, but a pair of splits led to open frames in the third and sixth frames, which was all the room Ernesto needed to jump ahead and never look back.

For his efforts, Landon exited Junior Gold 2023 with a solid third-place finish.

Junior Team USA Developmental Team 2024
The U15 division also served as a qualifier for automatic spots on the 2024 Junior Team USA Developmental Team. In the boys and girls divisions, the top two qualifiers after 26 games of qualifying, the event champion, and the event runner-up earned places on the team.

Based on those criteria, the automatic qualifiers for the 2024 Junior Team USA Developmental Team are as follows:

Boys Division
Braden McDonough, Coppell, Texas (first after 26 games of qualifying)
Ernesto Reynoso, Folsom, California (second after 26 games of qualifying and event champion)
*Dylan Harnden, Shelby Township, Michigan (third after 26 games of qualifying)
Matteo Quintero, Smyrna, Tennessee (event runner-up)

*Since event champion Ernesto Reynoso also finished second after 26 games of qualifying, Harnden makes the team as the third-place finisher after qualifying.

Girls Division
Bella Castillo, Odessa, Texas (first after 26 games of qualifying)
Malayna Calo, Riverview, Florida (second after 26 games of qualifying)
Larielle Tharps, Orlando, Florida (event champion)
Macy Jones, Shobonier, Illinois (event runner-up)

The U15 division at the 2023 Junior Gold Championships included 326 girls and 700 boys.

More than 3,250 United States Bowling Congress Youth members competed at Junior Gold 2023, traveling across six bowling centers in the Indianapolis area in hopes of winning a sizable portion of the approximately $450,000 scholarship fund, making a run at a national title and claiming a spot on Junior Team USA. provided livestream coverage of every round of the 2023 event leading up to the stepladder finals in each division.