16-Player Field Finalized for Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship

by Aaron Smith, USBC Communications 0

ARLINGTON, Texas – The final major of the season is up for grabs as 16 of the top players on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour will vie for the season-ending Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship title, Sept. 3-6 at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia.

The PWBA Tour Championship brings together all eligible champions from 2017, with the remainder of the field filled through the season points list.

The 16-player field and bracket matchups became official Tuesday following the television broadcast of the Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open on CBS Sports Network.

Players will compete in a single-elimination, best-of-five match-play bracket to determine the two additional competitors who will advance to the live finals, which will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Reigning PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, and Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, automatically earned spots on the TV show as the top two players on the 2017 PWBA Tour points list. As the season points leader, Johnson is the top seed.

Johnson was dominant this season – her 139,150 points are more than 50,000 points ahead of second place – resulting in her already earning PWBA Player of the Year honors, which is determined by season points. She is the first player in PWBA history to win award in three consecutive seasons.

The 43-year-old right-hander had the best year of her professional career in 2017, winning the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open, Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship and her fourth consecutive U.S. Women’s Open title.

She joins Wendy Macpherson (four) and Lisa Wagner (three) as the only players who’ve won the honor three or more times.

“That is absolutely amazing to me,” said Johnson, who has won eight titles since the relaunch of the PWBA Tour. “I grew up a bowler and with a dream to bowl on the women’s professional tour. I grew up watching the ladies bowl. I grew up watching Leanne (Hulsenberg), who I bowl against. I watched Robin Romeo and all those ladies, hoping I could grow up one day and do what they do. To be in this position, especially doing this for more than 20 years and at the ripe age of 43, to be player of the year, is hard to put into words. But, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

And while 2017 already has been a season to remember, winning the Tour Championship would add a new title to Johnson’s resume.

“I’ve been fortunate to go right to the TV show the last couple times, but I didn’t do so well,” Johnson said. “To really finish off 2017 with the Tour Championship would be a big deal for me. But, I’ve had an amazing 2017 – two major wins, one runner-up in a major and one more title. If it happens, it happens. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. But, I’m not going to be at the Tour Championship just to show up and have fun. I’m going to have fun, but I want to win. That’s going to be my goal in Richmond.”

Kulick broke through earlier this season with a win at the PWBA Fountain Valley Open, her first victory in 11 championship-round appearances since the relaunch of the PWBA Tour in 2015.

Kulick added a runner-up finish at the Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship and was third at the Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open, which helped her finish second on the points list (86,000). She will be the No. 2 seed and compete in the second semifinal.

Diana Zavjalova of Latvia, who won her second United States Bowling Congress Queens title this season and finished second at the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open, is the third seed and earned a first-round bye at the PWBA Tour Championship.

Zavjalova will face the winner of Monday’s match between No. 10 seed Daria Pajak and 11th seeded Verity Crawley.

Also earning a first-round bye is 2015 Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship winner Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York. She won the Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open, the final standard event of the 2017 season, for her first win of 2017, was third at the PWBA Orlando Open and had fourth-place finishes at the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open and PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open.

She will face the winner of Monday’s opening match between No. 9 Maria Jose Rodriguez and No. 12 Missy Parkin.

Monday’s other first-round matches, with how they qualified in parenthesis: No. 5 Shannon O’Keefe (PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open winner) vs. No. 16 Birgit Poppler (PBA/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles winner); No. 7 Rocio Restrepo (QubicaAMF PWBA Sonoma County Open winner) vs. No. 14 Sin Li Jane (Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open champion); No. 6 Shannon Pluhowsky (points) vs. No. 15 Stefanie Johnson (PWBA Orlando Open winner); No. 8 Clara Guerrero (points) vs. No. 13 Siti Rahman (PWBA Wichita Open winner).

Monday’s Pajak-Crawley match is a matchup of former Webber International teammates and PWBA Tour roommates. The match also could determine the winner of the PWBA Rookie of the Year award.

Pajak, who won the 2017 PWBA Greater Detroit Open, has 59,890 points and holds a small advantage over Crawley (53,462.5). If Pajak wins the match, she will claim the 2017 honor.

Crawley, who finished second at the PWBA Fountain Valley Open and the PWBA Greater Detroit Open, would need to reach the TV finals to win the award.

The PWBA Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards are determined by competition points.

Monday and Tuesday’s best-of-five matches will take place two at a time, live on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association. For subscription information, visit XtraFrame.TV.

Go to PWBA.com for more information about the PWBA Tour including the Tour Championship bracket, news, player biographies and more.