Grand Valley quartet ready for National Marbles Tournament

Three of the four area children who will be competing in the national marbles championships in New Jersey practice on the marbles rings at Lincoln Park. From left to right are Sam Lee, 13, of Glade Park, Katie Carozza, 13, of Grand Junction and Sam’s sister Anna Lee, 11.

Like one well-aimed marble striking another, something clicked in the four Grand Valley mibsters after last year’s National Marbles Tournament.

Each felt he or she could have practiced more, so this year they did. Hence, Grand Junction’s Jonathan Blair and Katie Carozza and Glade Park’s Sam Lee and Anna Lee return to Wildwood, N.J., this weekend with greater chances of winning all of the marbles.

Their coach, Leah Lee, who also is mom to Sam and Anna, believes all four can reach Thursday’s semifinals (eight players apiece in the boys and girls divisions), and any of the four can win a national championship.

Pennsylvania is the state with the greatest marbles reputation, but Colorado has had its share of champions, including last year’s boys champion, Caleb Isaacson of Gunnison. Leah Lee says confidently she believes the boys and girls champs this year will come from Pennsylvania or Colorado.

Each member of the Grand Valley quartet has been practicing a minimum of an hour a day since April, Leah Lee said, and they all know what to expect at nationals.

“They’re way more prepared,” she said. “All four are shooting semifinal quality. They are going to be the ones to beat this year.”

Each is more accurate, too. Part of the national-qualifying criteria is a player must hit 50 percent of his or her shots, and Leah Lee said each of her players is hitting 75 percent or higher. Blair, she added, was shooting in the 90th percentile.

Blair’s accuracy is no accident. He said his extra practice time has made him a straighter shooter, and he’s been motivated by this year being his last to compete. He’s 14 years old, and 14 is the maximum age allowed.

“I’ve been practicing every day at least two hours, sometimes twice a day,” said Blair, who finished eighth last year and fourth two years ago at the national meet.

Greater accuracy should lead to greater consistency, and that’s the key to winning the title, he said.

“I always thought you needed a lot of sticks,” Blair said, referring to games in which a player shoots first and wins, knocking seven marbles out, without the opponent getting a turn. “You just have to be consistent, getting five marbles out each time, then get the other two on your next turn.”

That’s not to say he isn’t racking up his share of sticks.

“He’s shooting like a national champion right now,” Leah Lee said. “He’s shooting outstanding. He’s getting multiple sticks at practice.”

Carozza’s accuracy has improved in a noticeable way at practice, too.

“I used to not get sticks at practice too often,” she said. “Now I get about one per practice, so I’m doing better on the breaks.”

The 13-year-old has practice to thank for the improvement, as she added, “Last year I’d practice about 30 minutes a day, and this year I’d say I’m practicing three hours a day.”

Carozza, who placed sixth last year and second the year before, said she spends about two hours a day at the marbles rings at Lincoln Park. The other hour of practice comes at home, where she puts tape on the ground to mark two inches and four inches, and she practices her tap shots.

Anna Lee’s accuracy has improved to the point where Blair said the 11-year-old is a pretty even match for him, but she said her improvement has been as much mental as physical.

“If I miss a shot, I don’t give up. I know I can still do it,” said Anna, who added she upped the frequency of her practices from about once a week a year ago to every day this year.

Sam Lee said he’s developed a much more powerful shot, even though the 13-year-old uses a jasper, the heaviest shooter allowed.

“He’ll probably be the only kid at nationals who uses that shooter,” Leah Lee said, adding most players shoot an agate.

Sam, who placed sixth at nationals last year, said having a powerful shot has its advantages, but he has to be careful not to shoot with too much power. He said he also shoots with much more backspin, again a product of practice.

He appears to have the skills to climb in the standings this year, and it’s what he’s aiming to do.

“Everyone’s goal, or what they want, is to win,” he said. “I want to get into the semifinals and go up a few places.”

Sam spoke after last year’s national tournament about the need to practice more, saying he would.

He was true to his word, as Leah Lee said, “He did, and he’s ready.”


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