SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Even the most elite bowlers will tell you there's always room for improvement, and subtle changes to equipment or style are not uncommon.
For Brazil's Stephanie Martins, two significant changes have elevated her game and confidence, and she showed her progress Tuesday as she claimed the singles gold medal at the 2018 Pan American Bowling Confederation Women's Championships.
The 27-year-old right-hander secured her first medal in adult international competition with a record 1,518 six-game total at Sebelen Bowling Center, a 253 average. She bowled on the day's opening squad, then had the title mathematically locked up with two games to go on the second, and final, squad of the day.
Martins was followed in the standings by a pair of left-handers. Colombia's Anggie Ramirez Perea claimed the silver medal in Tuesday's singles event with a 1,410 total, and Team USA's southpaw, Shannon Pluhowsky, earned the bronze medal with a 1,405 set.
Singles first was contested at the tournament in 1981, and Martins' effort was the highest singles set in tournament history by any competitor, man or woman. Bill O'Neill of the United States owns the overall six-game record at the PABCON Championships with 1,560, posted during trios at the 2011 tournament in Mexico.
"This had been a dream goal of mine," Martins said. "I've never medaled in the international competitions as adult, and it's something I've been working toward, as well."
Defending champion Missy Parkin of the United States made a run at the medal stand, too, but fell short, finishing fourth with 1,358. She claimed the title at the 2016 event in Cali, Colombia, with 1,437.
This year's singles medal ceremony will take place Friday, along with the medal presentations for doubles and trios.
Martins, who bowled collegiately at Webber International from 2009-2013, remained in Florida after finishing school, but she opted for a change of scenery to start 2018 and returned to her native Brazil to be closer to her supportive friends and family.
Without the watchful eyes of the experienced coaches she worked with at Webber, Martins was on her own to keep her game moving in the right direction, so she could find success on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour and while representing Brazil on the lanes.
She immediately noticed that her timing was off, so, with help from a few coaches she sent video to, she changed her approach from five steps to four, a huge change at any level, but it has paid off.
Her win Tuesday also marked the first gold medal, and fifth medal overall, for Brazil at the PABCON Championships. The Brazilian men previously claimed silver in trios (2007), bronze in team (2001) and bronze in singles (2012). The only other woman from Brazil to medal at the event was Tereza Muelas, who was the singles bronze medalist in 1985.
"This means a lot, especially with me moving back home in December and making such big changes in my game," Martins said. "I felt like I needed to change to be better. By myself, it's hard, and it took a while to see results, but it was nice to come out here today and bowl so well."
Additional finishes for Team USA this year in the Dominican Republic included Sydney Brummett, who was tied for 13th place with 1,259, Shannon O'Keefe in 16th place with 1,250, Liz Kuhlkin in 17th place with 1,241 and Jordan Richard, who finished 28th with 1,145.
"It's always fun to get off to a good start and win a medal, especially coming off a disappointing PWBA Tour Championship, where I only bowled three games," Pluhowsky said. "It also was nice getting to bowl six games and move across the house today because we were able to gather some good information that will help us later in the week."
The field this week features 51 competitors representing nine countries - Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the United States.
Competition continues Wednesday with six games of doubles, and medals also will be awarded this week in trios, team, all-events and Masters match play.
Colombia's Clara Guerrero and Rocio Restrepo are the defending champions in the doubles event.
The 2018 PABCON Women's Championships is being contested on the 36-foot World Bowling Stockholm oil pattern.
For more information on Team USA, visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA.
For more information, or to follow the scores from the PABCON Women's Championships, visit PABCON.org.
2018 PABCON WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Sebelen Bowling Center
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
GOLD - Stephanie Martins, Brazil, 1,518
SILVER - Anggie Ramirez Perea, Colombia, 1,410
BRONZE - Shannon Pluhowsky, United States, 1,405