As the 2022 Summerset National Championships women’s singles final came to an end, Tayla Bruce was more relieved than jubilant.
The 26-year-old had done it at last, after years of near misses.
Bruce had compiled an outstanding record at the tournament – arguably the most consistent player over the last eight years – but had always fallen short of the gold medal.
Not this time, as Bruce capped an outstanding week with a gritty 21-14 victory over close friend Claire Hendra, to finally see her name engraved in the winner’s column on the trophy.
“It was a big thing to get over the line to be honest, after being so close for so many years,” said Bruce. “I guess it’s just getting the monkey off the back, really.”
“With all that hard work and the choices you make to succeed in bowls it’s a nice feeling to be able to celebrate that special win, rather than thinking about the ‘what ifs, the if only’s and the things you could have done better. It’s been a title I’ve been chasing since 2014.”
That year Bruce came close to being youngest ever champion (18) at a national bowls event, before finishing runner up to Helen King.
She was a beaten finalist again in 2016 and reached the last four in 2015. Ahead of this year’s event, Bruce had reached the quarterfinals or better on eight successive occasions.
“It’s natural to feel a bit frustrated,” said Bruce. “You’ve got to keep trying. It’s hard when you do lose those final rounds and you think, for once, you don’t want to be learning from it, you just want to happen and you want to have all the other losses help towards making it happen. And this time it did.”
The title was extra sweet, claimed at her local club Burnside, where she first became interested in the sport after watching the 2008 World Championships.
“To do it at home, on home greens, with home support,” said Bruce. “That’s really special.”
The 26-year-old had earlier performed well in the national pairs, going all the way to the final alongside Hendra, before they were toppled by Sandra Keith and Bev Morel.
“They played well but I was disappointed with myself – I didn’t quite grasp it in the final,” said Bruce. “So that was a huge focus for me to turn that around, work on my process, and put up a high standard of bowls.”
After progressing seamlessly through post section play, Bruce edged Jenny Anderson (Woodend) 21-17 in her quarter final, setting up a last four contest with national squad teammate and 2017 champion Selina Goddard.
It was an epic.
“It was always gonna be a good game,” said Bruce. “We have come across each other a lot over the years and I know what she’s capable of.”
Trailing 19-20 on the final end, Goddard held enough shots to take the win and a passage to the semi-final, before Bruce conjured some magic with her last bowl.
“She had about three shots within about a mat length and there was enough room to draw to keep the game alive or to take the game,” explained Bruce.
“I switched hands with my third bowl and that one went a little bit too far but I knew the line was right. I just had to take a bit of weight off and I ended up getting it… it was a big relief.”
With her win or bust bowl, Bruce had drawn a ‘toucher’ to take the victory.
“It was a gritty game and we both really dug deep,” said Bruce. “It was exciting to be able to play the final shot. That’s one I won’t forget for a very long time….it will stick in my brain for years to come.”
That put Bruce on a high heading into the final and any nerves were allayed by the rapid turnaround, after her extended battle with Goddard.
The decider was another good contest. Bruce held the edge for most of the game, though Hendra claimed seven shots without reply at one point to lead 13-10.
But Bruce consolidated from there and was composed on the home straight.
“When I got to about 16 I started to treat it like it was a 25 shot game,” said Bruce. “That was a good way of approaching it in the final stages and kept me pretty stable mentally. It was really nice to play against a good friend and Claire put up some great bowls as well.”