The setting was nothing new for Owatonna, Minn., bowlers Dan Bock and Chad Nelson.
The pair, usually roommates on the road and travel partners, have been bowling with and against one another since they were 12 years old. They’ve been teammates, and they’ve been pitted against each other in championship matches.
Sunday, they found themselves in the ladder as they squared off in the championship match of the Chippewa Valley Match Games — concluding a two-day tournament — at Wagner’s Lanes. Nelson had 10 strikes in the title bout to give him the win over Bock, his second in as many years at the event.
“He’s my second wife,” Nelson said. “We were bowling mostly for the fun of it. Bragging rights. He’s beaten me plenty of times, and it’s reverse.”
Both are competitors, but they are also friends. In the championship match, which Nelson won 265 -235, they were both clapping for one another with every roll.
“It’s always fun to compete against him,” Bock, who has bowled in PBA tournaments, said. “He pushed me, I push him. I don’t mind losing to him.”
Nelson is a repeat champion, and he finished runner-up in 2014. He isn’t the first person to defend a title at the tournament that celebrated its 59th year of existence. But he is the first person to be a repeat champion two different times.
There were jokes among spectators at the conclusion of Nelson’s dominant championship performance that it should be renamed the Chad Nelson Classic. Nelson held the lead for most of the tournament, with his highest point total coming in his final game to give him a total of 2,991 points for the weekend.
“I’m comfortable here,” Nelson said. “I like it here. Coming into a place, when you have confidence and have bowled well in the past, that’s huge.”
Tournament director Denny Burkart has made the Chippewa Valley Match Games challenging based on the way he oils the lanes. He makes it so a bowler can’t just stand on one side and power it down the other. He puts a little extra on the fourth and fifth arrows so that bowlers have to use more strategy.
It also makes for lower scores, which means more people have a chance to get into the top 24, which automatically wins them money.
“The way they start, they are very tough,” Nelson said. “You have to be conservative, make good shots, stay out of trouble and not leaving splits. It’s keeping it clean and making your spares. That’s the biggest thing, and as the day goes on, they do soften up for some of us who can play a little farther in, and we take advantage of it.”
There were 134 participants in Saturday and Sunday’s competition, and a few of the top bowlers from around the country made the pilgrimage to Wagner’s Lanes. The tournament has grown over the years and attracted more of a national following in part because of the difficulty of the alley.
But still, Eau Claire had two local bowlers crack the top 10 in the final results. Mike Wirz, a six-time tournament champion, placed fifth, and Kurt Hanke finished eighth. Wirz even made it to the step ladder round.
“The first thing when I walked back, I went to Kurt and we shook hands and I said ‘Hey, we represented Eau Claire well,’ ” Wirz said. “It means a lot to us. There is a pride factor.”
Nick Heilman rolled a 300 on Sunday afternoon in his 11th game of the weekend. He finished third overall.