LAS VEGAS - Clark County's top high school bowlers got the opportunity to compete on bowling's biggest stage Friday as they filed into Cashman Center, the home of the upcoming USBC Open Championships, and took to the lanes for the 2009 MVP Bowling Tournament.

The tournament was just the third high school event ever to be contested in an Open Championships venue (2005 and 2008).

Each Clark County high school nominated at least one bowler to compete in the event, and 112 athletes representing 33 high schools were treated to the full Open Championships experience, including a traditional march down the tournament's Center Aisle. They also got to see their names in lights on the tournament's new state-of-the-art scoreboards.

"The kids just loved it," said Tournament Director Bobbi Hoven. "They were very excited. They didn't think they would have the opportunity to bowl on these lanes, and then we moved the tournament here and they couldn't believe it."

Much like the Open Championships, which will feature a near-record 17,200 five-player teams this year, the MVP Bowling Tournament has grown regularly since its inception more than 20 years ago when a small group of students assembled to crown the area's best high school bowler.

"Every year, (the tournament) got bigger and bigger because Las Vegas kept adding high schools," Hoven said.

At the inaugural MVP Bowling Tournament, the prize fund was just $200. This year, the bowlers competed for $4,100. They each rolled five qualifying games before the field was cut to the top five boys and top five girls for the stepladder finals.

On the girls' side, defending champion Brianna Mullins, a junior at Rancho High School, reached the title match for the second consecutive year. Although she fell to Coronado High School's Alex Katz in the finale, 187-171, Mullins was satisfied with her performance.

"I feel very excited, I feel accomplished," Mullins said. "I struggled in the first five games. I was underdog again this year and came up in second place, and I'm extremely happy."

Mullins has been bowling with her family since she was 6 years old and to have the opportunity to bowl on Open Championships lanes represented a new challenge for her.

"It means everything to me," Mullins said. "These lanes are extremely hard because of the oil conditions, but I'm glad I got this experience."

On the boys' side, Justin Gelsinger, a senior from Western High School, outlasted Rancho High School's Steven Ashley to take home the top prize of $750.

Gelsinger has been bowling at a competitive level for five years, and he was happy to have the chance to bowl at the Open Championships venue and experience lane conditions he has never seen before.

Now that the scholarship tournament is over, the students must turn their focus to the upcoming Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association State Bowling Championships beginning Feb. 12 at The Orleans Bowling Center. Currently, Clark County is the only county in Nevada that recognizes bowling as a varsity sport.

Next up at Cashman Center will be the USBC Masters, one of four majors on the Lumber Liquidators Professional Bowlers Association Tour. The event will begin Monday and more than 400 of the best professional and amateur bowlers in the world will compete for the $60,000 top prize. The championship round will be televised live on ESPN at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15.

A week later, the 60 specially-installed tournament lanes will welcome the first of more than 85,000 bowlers who will be in town for the 2009 Open Championships, which will begin Feb. 21 and run for a record 154 days, wrapping up on July 24.

Final Standings

1, Alex Katz, Coronado
2, Brianna Mullins, Rancho
3, Melissa Huether, Durango
4, Hannah Chipman, Bonanza
5, Jackie Southam, Clark

1, Justin Gelsinger, Western
2, Steven Ashley, Rancho
3, Zachary Hattori, Silverado
4, Jakob Butturff, Foothill
5, Nate Leavitt, Bishop Gorman