23 Questions With….Stephane Lapensee
When we're little kids, birthdays mean cake, ice cream, pizza parties, friends and lots of cool presents. As we get older, a birthday hopefully consists of spending time with family, and often those you don't get to see as much as you'd like. On Monday, March 14th, Steph Lapensee of Arnprior, Ontario was celebrating his 37th birthday, and it was going just fine. You see, Steph was able to enjoy a birthday dinner with his 17 year-old son, Sean. It was the first time since Christmas that the two were able to sit down together. It was a perfect birthday- and it didn't end there! After dinner, Steph headed off to West Park Lanes in Ottawa for his Monday night league, no-doubt ecstatic about the evening he'd had, and unprepared for the magic that was left to come.
A five-game league at West Park, Steph started slowly with a 229 start. In the second game, he started with 7 consecutive strikes and finished with 312. In his 3rd game, Steph went one better, starting on 8-in-a-row and shooting 374. With 915 for the first three, the average person would call that a great "present" and would cruise through the rest of the night. Well Steph is far from the average person. In the fourth game, he didn't stop at 7 strikes, nor did he stop at 8! In fact, he didn't stop at all! That's right, Steph, on his birthday, threw all 12 strikes for his second career "Perfect" 450 game!! Incredible!!
He'd go on to add a 258 fifth game to his four-game total of 1365, giving him a whopping total of 1623! His average is now 286!! (That's 1430 per night, kids!)
Steph's bowling career started in 1986. His best friend would take off for a couple hours each Saturday, until one time when he just asked Steph, "Why don't you come and try it"? Well he did try it, and loved it, and joined the YBC that day. In his first year of Junior, Steph averaged 163 and qualified for the 4-Steps to Stardom where his team won the Zone Championship, allowing Steph to advance to his first Provincial final.
The next year, Steph's first year of Senior, he raised his average to 203, winning the league's Most Improved Bowler award and once again made it to the 4-Steps Provincials.
He would continue to improve, and in 1993 qualified for the Ontario Winter Games in Cornwall. Although he wasn't the highest average on the team, their coach, Alex Vande Pol saw something in him and put him in the "anchor" position. Steph went on to average 268 for the event, being named to the All-Star team in the process.
The rest, as they say, is history. Steph has gone on to become one of the premier players in the country. Although he may "fly a little under the radar", because he resides in the east end of the province, and hasn't played much in the Tournament Masters- he shouldn't!!
In Steph's first try at the Open, he won the Ottawa Valley Zone, which included shooting 3040 for ten at Walkley Lanes in Ottawa! He has gone on to represent Ottawa Valley 13 times at the Provincials, winning one team title. On 10 occasions, Steph has qualified for Singles, finishing as high as 3rd. He will once again head to Hamilton this Easter as Ottawa Valley's Zone Champion!
In 2006, Steph appeared on the TSN series and won 3 matches before losing to his good friend, Terry Little in the final. Steph earned $5000 in that event, and the very next month won the Sherwood Challenge, pocketing $8000 more.
Steph has several other local Tournament victories under his belt, including the event in Smiths Falls that he has won 4 times!!
When they're not competing on the lanes, Steph and his wife Diane (a fine player in her own right) are giving back to the game by running the YBC program at Opeongo Bowl in Renfrew, just north of their home in Arnprior. Their kids Sean, Pascal, Carly and Brayden also keep them busy.
I was able to interview Steph, just days after his "magical" Monday.
Steph, thanks for doing this, and happy "belated"! Take me back a few days, did you get a "sense" that something special was about to happen?
It was already a special day, getting to spend time with my son. As far as bowling, I had no idea that something like that was going to happen. My first game was 229, and it wasn't even HP problems. After that, I just got on a roll. (I'll say!) And having an opportunity to bowl one 450 in a lifetime is great, but bowling two of them is beyond what words can say.
You have one of the most balanced and consistent approaches anywhere, did this come naturally or did you have to work at it?
I had to work at it as I used four steps in YBC, starting at the back of the approach. I shortened it three or four years into adult competition.
What or who else helped in your development?
Once I was out of YBC, I joined YABA where most graduating bowlers end up going to bowl their tournaments. I soon realized that my 218 average was not competing with a lot of the adults. Now don't get me wrong, 218 is respectable for YBC bowlers competing with YBC bowlers, but for the adults…not so much. From that point forward I said to myself that I had to get better. I approached two of my coaches, Rick Morin and Kevin Jepson, and asked them "how can I improve as a bowler?"
Also, it helped that for the next five years I worked at Walkley Lanes and took advantage of being able to practice. I worked 3 nights a week and bowled 2 nights a week. I would go into work an hour early each shift to practice the things I was being told to work on. At that point every year, I gave myself personal goals. In my first year, my goal was to average 230 and my actual average ended at 236. My next goal was to reach 240 and I finished that year at 244. The next year, my goal was 250 and I ended up averaging 256. That's when I started trying money tournaments and the OPEN.
Wow, hard work does pay off doesn’t it! To give our readers a sense of your lane "strategy", what do you use for a target?
My "spot" is the center arrow.
Do you aim for a particular pocket?
Yes, I aim for the left pocket. Having said that, my common mistake is dropping my shoulder, which forces me to twist my wrist. I realize that when that happens, the ball will cross over to the right pocket, still giving me a chance at the strike.
How many sets of balls do you take to a tournament?
I have three sets of balls in my bowling bag. 2 sets are Softrolls (different sizes) and I have one set of Aramiths.
Do you have a set you use most often, and how do you decide which ones to use?
I finally decided 3 years ago to try a set of Softrolls and I've been using those ever since, improving my average a little bit.
How do you adjust if you're picking a lot of headpins?
Well, that depends on the reason I'm punching those famous Headpins…If my ball is moving too much I will move up a little to try to get the ball there a little bit sooner. If that doesn't work, I change the position of my thumb when I'm in my stance.
Steph, you play in one of the most talented and deepest zones in Ontario, so qualifying 13 times, including 10 as a Singles rep is amazing. Do you ever wish that you were in an easier zone? Or do you like the challenge of having to compete with so many good players and also knowing that you're always going to be on a strong team if you make it?
Easier Zones?? The zones are starting to be more competitive, but I wouldn't want to change a thing as I enjoy the competition way too much!! What do they say? If you want to be the best you have to bowl with the best and that's what I would like to be at the end of my journey.
Don’t worry about offending anyone Steph, I said "easier" not "easy". Things are definitely much tougher out there now that more zones have amalgamated, but your zone as well as Hamilton, Central, and several others have a much deeper talent pool than some of the others-mine included! Just stating the facts! (And awaiting hate-mail)
From your first Youth Challenge experience, you've always been put in a prominent position in the line-up, usually anchor or first, and always playing top bowlers on opposing teams. Do you find this mentally straining over a grind of eight or nine team games in one day, or do you simply enjoy the challenge? Or do you even think about THAT?
I'm the type of bowler that will not back down from a challenge, and bowling in those pressure positions is what I enjoy! It can be straining mentally, but as you mature as a competitive bowler you find a way to handle those situations.
You mentioned a couple of your coaches earlier, but have any players or coaches helped you with your adult career?
During a YABA tournament at Neb's in the late 1990's, I was supposed to bowl in Scratch Doubles with Marc Goneau, but he ended up not being able to attend. Mike Wegman, who ran our league at the time, ended up finding me a replacement in David Michael, whose average at the time was 281, which was much higher than mine. As the tournament went on, David pointed out some of the differences in our games, and how it affected us average-wise. One of the stats he pointed out, and I still use to this day, is efficiency in sparing corner pins. He was about 90% and I was around 75% so I worked on that and have improved it now. Thanks, David!!
Are there any fellow players that you really enjoy watching now?
I enjoy watching Hall-of-Famer, Bernie Menard. I first met Bernie when I worked at Walkley Lanes in the mid-90s. It was the same day that he appeared on the CBC Championships and I couldn't figure out how he made it back to Ottawa so fast from bowling that afternoon in Winnipeg (Until he told me why). He's been my idol since that day.
One of the times that you won the Smiths Falls tournament, you apparently didn't need to play the same number of frames as your competitors- please explain.
It was a weekend where we had to move our clock forward, and I had forgotten. I was on a city bus on the way to meet my ride when I got a call on my cell. At that point my ride had to leave as I was about 20 minutes away, so I called one of my friends, who drove me to Smiths Falls. They were in the third frame when I got there, so I started in the fourth frame. I think I bowled 186 for that game. With 2 games to go, I needed a 712 double to pass the top score which was 2940. I ended up bowling 356 and 370 to win the tournament. I couldn't believe it!
And there was something different about your first ever money tournament victory. Can you tell us about that?
Well, before joining the YBC in 1986-87, I bowled Youth 10-pin the year before, but didn't like it, so I switched to 5-pin. Later on in my YBC years, my family still bowled 10-pin in a fun league on Friday nights, so I also joined again. They had an event at Prost Lanes in Kingston called the "Survival Tournament". It was 20 games in one day. A lot of our league bowlers attended so I decided to try it. I was averaging 162 that year and this was a handicap Tournament. I averaged 189 and won $800!!
Luckily, there are lots of tournaments in the Ottawa area and into the Gatineau region of Quebec to keep you busy, how much of a grind is it to get to other events in Southern Ontario, many of which are 7 or 8 hours away?
The tournaments that I look into are the ones that will give me a chance to pay for my trip if I was to make the cut. Having said that, a tournament around Toronto is probably going to cost me $300 to $400, so if I was to make the cut and receive $200 or better, I would most likely be there.
Okay, here's a coaching question. It drives me nuts to see kids with all kinds of talent, but who are unwilling to change a few things or work a little bit harder to improve their game. I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without making changes when I was younger and luckily I had a great coach who I respected and who also gave me a swift kick in the pants when needed. We just read how hard you had to work to get where you are. We never want to "grandstand" or use ourselves as examples when working with kids, so how frustrating is it for you trying to work with someone who could improve, but won't listen or try something new? And how do you handle it?
You are not alone Steve! It drives me nuts, too. Now if we, as coaches can't change their minds, all we can try to do is stay positive for as long as he/she is in our program, and try at every opportunity that we have to encourage them. Someday, they will realize that the coach is right.
Agreed! Although our program has so many kids, I end up spending time working with the ones who want to improve. Sometimes talking to the parents helps. On more than one occasion, I've said to a parent "I've suggested this and this and this to Billy and he won't listen…Guess he wants to average 140 all his life". Blunt, but sometimes it works.
What is your favourite thing about 5-pin?
My favourite thing is the competition! It is so great! When you could have 80-90 of the better bowlers in Southern Ontario in one spot at any time….That is awesome!!
And finally, what advice would you give to others looking to improve their games?
Well, for the young ones coming out of YBC…You are not in YBC anymore! The competition is a lot better. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you become a better bowler!
For the rest, do what I do. My goal, every time I go bowling, whether it's league, tournament or even just to practice, try to throw as many good balls as you can! Our sport is the hardest to master of all the bowling games out there so remember that!
Great job, Steph and thanks for your time.
Thanks a lot Steve, it was fun!!
See you in Hamilton!
Can't wait! We'll see you there.