JohnDavid “JD” Nance and Aileen Linares share the same dream: winning the 19th New Mexico Open on Sunday, August 20, at Tenpins & More, and pocketing the top prize of $13,000.
Other than that, they’re complete opposites:
Linares, once the anchor of the Rio Rancho High School bowling team and a member of the RRHS Class of 2018, is a right-handed bowler, attends college and hopes to have a career in the medical field in a few years.
Nance, once a sprinter at Carlsbad High School, Class of 2000, and later a member of the University of New Mexico track & field team, is a lefty, with a family of his own and a job as a geologist.
By the way, he’s had 31 perfect games – but didn’t get his first until he’d come, oh so close – 11 games of 299, which meant one stubborn pin failed to fall in the 12th frame each time.
“I’ve probably had 20 or 30 299s, 298s,” he added. Now, “I bowl one league in the winter and one league in the summer; every tournament that Steve (Mackie) hosts, I’m lacing up, trying to bowl it.”
And although it’d be improper for Tenpins & More proprietor Steve Mackie — founder of the New Mexico Open and what has grown to more than $70,000 in prize money, to play favorites — you know he’d love it if one of these locals won the tournament.
“It’d be really nice to have them finish 1 or 2; I wouldn’t mind either way,” Mackie said. “They’re two of the very nicest people we have bowling here, very diligent in everything they do, including their family and their church life.”
No New Mexican has won the event since its first two years, when John Young of Tijeras posted back-to-back wins in 2004 and ’05. It’s understandable, because some of the nation’s top bowlers find their way to the City of Vision every August to compete for the cash.
Nance is a regular, having competed every year except for 2021, when he wasn’t feeling right. One year later, he was rolling for the championship, won in the final frame by Cortez Schenk, 233-230.
Let’s learn more about them.
Linares said she originally tried gymnastics and then volleyball before hearing that Rio Rancho High School had a bowling team.
“I was in a league at the time, I was, like, ‘Why not try it?’” she recalled, adding that she was 8 years old when she first bowled, using a three-step approach.
“So when I was there my first year, I got into it more competitively, because it was so much fun, the environment was really ice.”
When she saw RRHS get to the state tournament, and that it was all boys, she worked hard – thanks a lot to coaching from Dana Miller-Mackie – and made the varsity team.
“Once you get into it, you’re in it. It’s hard to stop,” she said. “We always say we hate bowling when we bowl bad, but we always come back to it because, for me, it’s stress-relieving.”
By the time she was finished with high school, Linares found it didn’t matter who she was facing – male or female – she could compete.
Coaching has proven invaluable: “Sometimes, when I do feel my timing is off, Mike Miller is my most current coach since high school – he’s helped me find ways to re-set myself, if there’s something off in my timing.
“He’s given me a lot of tools to help me improve my game, not only my physical game but my mental game as well.
“Dana (Miller-Mackie) really helped me better my strength and the way I throw it … (she) helped me push more on my basics and fundamentals, and then Mike just came and helped me tidy up my skills in that.”
Linares has had two sanctioned perfect games, and “quite a few times, (I came) pretty close.”
She’s working on a pre-med degree at UNM, after starting her college studies at CNM for a year and a half.
“At Rio Rancho High School, the teachers I had for science really motivated me, especially (the late Mark) Leonard. He was one of the primary science teachers motivating me.”
She regularly goes to a gym to build her endurance.
“When you’re bowling, it doesn’t feel like it the first two, three games, you feel fine, but once you start bowling more and more games, you start feeling the tiredness,” she said, opting for power drinks. She also works on arm strength and leg strength.
As for the mental aspect, say if she misses a “gimme spare,” Linares said, “I tell myself, ‘It’s just the first miss of the game,’ and I try to focus on what I did that made me miss that simple spare, whether I turned my hand, I walked too fast, I tried to muscle it. Then the next time, when I’m on the approach, I tell myself, ‘Relax; you can pick it up.'”
So, to get deep into the tournament, maybe even rolling in the tournament’s final match late in the afternoon of the 20th Linares said, “I know what I can do and I’ll do the best I can to increase my chances of making the cut, or continuing with match play. It’s all about relying on myself more than relying on what others do.”
With some prep titles under her belt, along with success on the Junior Bowlers Tour when she was younger, Linares said her biggest accomplishment was at the Queens tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It was like the first big, major tournament that I went to,” she said. “It was all women; they were all pros.
“And I think, after that first day, I was able to control my emotions, and tell myself, ‘You don’t have the pressure as a bowler; just do your best.’ Because other people have the pressure, because they expect more of themselves, because they’re pros,” she said. “And I think the fact that I moved up so many spots after that first day was a big accomplishment for me.”
Nance said his whole family bowls and he grew up in a bowling center in Carlsbad.
“First time I threw a ball I was 3 years old; I started my first league when I was 4, and I’ve been bowling ever since,” he said. “I played other sports (including football) growing up.”
As a junior at Carlsbad High, he was the 100-meter state champ; as a senior, he was the long jump champ. He came to UNM to compete in track for then-coaches Mark and Matt Henry. While there, he bowled on a club team, recalling, “I had, over three years, I made about $10,000 in scholarship money, which paid for a lot of my college.”
“He’s won 15 scratch-match play tournaments,” Steve Mackie said, impressed with Nance’s kegling skills.
Like Linares, Nance, who’s lived in Rio Rancho since 2010, doesn’t have to go far when he feels his game is off.
“I’ve got a lot of instruction from Dana over the years. … Just two weeks ago, I was talking to Mike and Paul Yoder here on some timing issues and some techniques, trying to work some things out,” Nance said, “so it’s kind of a constant learning experience.”
He tries to maintain a good, balanced diet; stretching and keeping his legs physically fit, “I’m on Pelaton all the time…. Try to make sure my body is as fit as it can be, and functioning, so just so I’m able to do the sport the best I can.”
As for last year’s loss in the championship match, he has no regrets.
“I did everything I physically could possibly do,” he said. “The last shot – first ball in the 10th frame – I needed a spare or two. My wife kept telling me, ‘One shot; follow your techniques.’ My last shot, I was OK, made sure I followed the procedure.
“I got up, I rolled with a good feed, I hit my mark and I followed through,” he recalled. “I didn’t quite rotate the ball like I had done before. If that was my one thing, I can’t complain – I was bowling against world-class bowlers throughout the field and match play the last day.
“Just to be in that spot, I was very honored,” he said. “I’m really working on my physical game again, making sure my timing is good so I can hit my mark and repeat shots.
“If I can hit my targets and roll the ball the same way every time, the rest comes out to reading the lanes and making the ball selection, and I think I’m pretty good at that. … And make my spares.”
Nance has a great temperament for the game, too.
“It’s really easy to get upset and frustrated and, honestly, the only person that’s really at fault is yourself,” he explained. “It doesn’t help the next frame to dwell on it. … Once the ball’s out of your hand and you see the result, you have to take a deep breath, put it in the past and forget about it.”
Like Linares, 18 years his junior, he won’t worry about an opponent.
“Never worry about what the other person is doing; the only thing you can control is what you physically do to get the ball on the lane. … The best thing you can do is keep doing your game and bowl the best game you possibly can, because anything can happen throughout that game, until the last ball’s thrown, until it’s mathematically over.”
Pinfall: Spectators are admitted free again to the New Mexico Open, which starts Friday, August 18. You can see the tournament program at tenpinsmore.com.
… The Rio Rancho bowling center celebrated 40 years in business on July 31, although it’s only been Tenpins & More since Mackie, his wife Dana and her brother, Mike Miller, bought it in 1999.