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Earnest wins big-time bowling tournament

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By Seth Whitehead

Note to anyone bowling against Jessica Earnest in the near future - do not try to play the intimidation card.

Especially if you're a dude.

One of Earnest's male counterparts attempted to do so recently at the Third Annual Chris Barnes Youth Classic, held in Irving, Texas, over Thanksgiving weekend.

"He kept saying, 'I'm coming after you,'" Earnest recalled. "I just kept telling him to bring it on."

Earnest's trash-talking counterpart's strategy backfired, as he wound up going home after the first round, while the VCHS junior emerged from a co-ed field of 290 high school-age competitors with a 3 1/2-foot tall championship trophy.

"I was getting a lot of crap from the guys," added Earnest with a laugh. "They tried to intimidate me, and it really didn't work out that great for them."

Fueled partly by her male counterparts' feeble intimidation tactics, Earnest secured a spot in the semifinals by averaging a 220 over her first six games.

She then found herself among eight finalists after posting a 211 average in the semifinal round.

The top-eight bowlers then went head-to-head in a round-robin format for all the marbles, with Earnest coming away with a 6-2 record and her biggest tournament win to date.

"That's the biggest trophy I've ever won - by far," said Earnest, who has been competing in tournaments all over the country since she was in seventh grade.

"It was a great first tournament to win, as far as a big tournament, and it was something my sister hadn't won before."

The latter statement drew an uproarious round of laughter from Earnest's parents before Jessica added, "Well, it's true."

Earnests' sister is Vanderbilt sophomore standout Josie Earnest, who led the Commodores to a national title a year ago.

Jessica started getting serious about the sport right about the time Josie's game started garnering accolades, "I was like, 'Hmm, I can do that,'" Jessica said.

And to say that the siblings have developed bit of a competitive relationship since then would be a monumental understatement.

"Not kinda - we are (competitive)," said Jessica with a laugh. "But at the end of the day, we're best friends, even though we're tough as competitors."

Like her older sister, Jessica has ambitions of bowling at the collegiate level. She might even join her big sis in Nashville, Tenn., someday soon.

"I think it'd be fun if I actually did go to Vanderbilt and bowl with her," said Jessica, who's also drawn interest from Farleigh Dickinson. "I think we could be teammates. But when it comes down to singles, we're going to butt heads."

The sisters have gone head-to-head countless times, both in formal and informal settings, with Josie holding a considerable edge at the moment.

"Oh, she's won more against me. I think I've beaten her a couple times," Jessica said. "She's tough."

But the competition no doubt prepared Jessica for her recent tournament run.

After you go head-to-head against the MVP of a national championship squad, competing against a few guys is no big deal. Six of Earnest's fellow finalists at the Chris Barnes Tournament were guys. And even though she was awarded six extra pins per game for being a girl, it turns out she didn't need them.

"It didn't bother me that I was going to be bowling against guys," Earnest said. "To me, that was just an extra challenge, and I was up for it, and I also knew that I was bowling good in practice."

Earnest credits her breakthrough win to an improved spare game.

"From the tournaments I bowled in this past summer to this tournament, I've improved a lot as far as my spare game and consistency," Earnest said.

Earnest certainly has plenty of opportunities to practice. Her parents have owned Vandalia Bowl since she was a year old, and she has taken full advantage. Earnest practices at the facility almost every day, and she is also involved in league bowling.

"It's all she's ever known," said Jessica's mom, Lisa.

Now, buoyed by her breakthrough tournament win - not to mention a $1,500 scholarship - Earnest's confidence level is through the roof.

But, as her trash-talking adversary found out in Texas, Earnest wasn't really lacking in that area to begin with.

"Not really," Earnest said. "I know what I'm capable of."