Defending Champion Rodriguez Among Field of 16 for Season-Ending PWBA Tour Championship

by Emil Williams, USBC Communications 0

RICHMOND, Va. – The top 16 athletes on the 2019 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour will compete in the season-ending PWBA Tour Championship and each seeks to find a way to victory lane as the event celebrates its third consecutive trip to Richmond Raceway.

The PWBA Tour Championship runs Sept. 15-18 in the Old Dominion Building at Richmond Raceway, bringing together every title winner in 2019 with the remainder of the field filled through the season-points list.

Players will compete in a single-elimination best-of-five match-play bracket to determine two of the four competitors for the finals, which will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. Eastern.

BowlTV.com, the official livestream home of the PWBA Tour, will provide live coverage of all rounds leading up to the televised finals on CBS Sports Network.

Colombia’s Maria José Rodriguez, the defending champion, is back in the field after claiming the No. 9 seed via the PWBA points list. She will face No. 12 seed Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, who also qualified through points, in her opening match.

Making the PWBA Tour Championship field was the “No. 1 goal” for Rodriguez, as it is for every player, and, to her, that means she’s had a successful season.

Before taking last year’s title, Rodriguez hadn’t won a single match in appearances at the 2016 and 2017 PWBA Tour Championship at Richmond. In 2018, as the No. 13 seed, her three matches leading up to the TV show each went to a deciding fifth game and, in the match to make the TV show, she came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat Latvia’s Diana Zavjalova.

“Heading into last season´s Tour Championship I was zero for Richmond, so my goal was to win one game,” Rodriguez said. “Once I did, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Every match was pressure packed, but it was nothing compared to the feeling of trying to win that first game.

“I focused on my ball motion with Nathan (Bohr) and we worked each shot independent of the situation of the match. To be one of only four to win this event is amazing, but I can't wait to have a chance to become the first player to win the event twice. Defending my title just means I had a good tournament last season. This year is a new mindset and a new set of challenges. I cannot wait to start.”

The 30-year-old right-hander has improved each season on the PWBA Tour after doubling her championship-round appearance total this season to four compared to 2018. In the first three seasons of the relaunched PWBA, Rodriguez made just one championship-round appearance in each of those seasons.

Her improvements began late last season, when she made a tactical change that helped her win last season and has continued to pay dividends in 2019.

“Toward the end of last season, I made a decision to be more aggressive in my approach to PWBA Tour events,” Rodriguez said. “I was confident in my ability to put shots on line and control the pocket, so I focused on trying to find a way to strike more. This little change in tactics has made all the difference when it comes down to the end of the events.

“Before, I was making a lot of cuts, a lot of top 12s, but not making shows. I have made fewer top 12s this season, but more shows, and had more chances to win. It’s a tradeoff, but I am happy with my progress.”

While excited to compete this week, Rodriguez is nursing a toe injury sustained two weeks ago following her five-medal performance at the World Bowling Women’s Championships at South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas. Rodriguez’s week included the coveted team gold medal she helped Colombia earn.

Following the conclusion of competition, a bowling ball fell on her right big toe, causing a non-displaced fracture. She competed at last week’s QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship to solidify her position on the points list, but the injury limited her.

Rodriguez describes coming off an emotional high after helping Colombia to the team gold medal on the final day of competition and then thrusted into a painful situation.

“The pressure of the world championships was so intense,” Rodriguez said. “I woke up the Saturday after the shows finally feeling like I didn't have to struggle to breathe. That feeling lasted about two hours. Once the ball fell on my foot, I was right back to feeling like I was drowning. Last week was rough. Perhaps more than the pain, I was not able to get into my last step the same way, which definitely affected my performance.

“I´ve been slowly trying to work more and more normal movement into my daily activities to try and get the feeling as right as I can for Richmond. Hopefully, I do not have to manage my toe that much at all because I´ll be at 100 percent, but right now I would say I´m about 60 percent, up from about 20 percent in Raleigh.”

Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, the 2018 and 2019 PWBA Player of the Year, and Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, already have earned their spots on the TV show, as they receive byes into the semifinals as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, for the second consecutive season.

Both are past champions of the event with McEwan taking the title in 2015 and O’Keefe winning in epic fashion in 2017. Neither player has won as the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds, with winning as No. 5 seeds.

O'Keefe has won four titles this season – PWBA Twin Cities Open, PWBA Tucson Open, PWBA East Hartford Open, BowlerX.com PWBA Orlando Open – and now owns 12 PWBA Tour titles. She not only leads the tour in points, but also in earnings, average, cashes and championship-round appearances.

She put together an impressive run in six championship-round appearances this season, averaging more than 225 and posting a 9-2 record.

McEwan, 28, won her second career major title at the U.S. Women’s Open, continuing a streak of winning at least one title each season since the tour’s relaunch in 2015. She currently shares the streak with O’Keefe. McEwan will make her fifth championship-round appearance in 2018.

Ukraine’s Dasha Kovalova, who captured her first career major at the USBC Queens and rolled a 300 game in the finals to win the Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open, settled into the No. 3 seed after a career season.

She’s earned a first-round bye and will await the winner of Monday night’s first-round match between No. 10 Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, and No. 11 Bryanna Coté of Red Rock, Arizona.

Liz Johnson seeks a trifecta this week in Richmond – her first title of the season, 11th career major championship and 25th career PWBA title – when she hits the lanes in Round 2 as the No. 4 seed. It’s the second consecutive season Johnson has been the No. 4 seed following the previous three seasons as the No. 1 seed.

She’ll take on the winner of the Rodriguez-Stefanie Johnson match.

The rest of Monday’s first-round matchups, with how they qualified in parenthesis:

* No. 5 Jordan Richard (PWBA Lincoln Open winner) vs. No. 16 Sandra Andersson (PWBA Fountain Valley Open)
* No. 7 Clara Guerrero (points) vs. No. 14 Josie Barnes (Nationwide PWBA Greater Cleveland Open winner)
* No. 6 Missy Parkin (points) vs. No. 15 Shayna Ng (PWBA Sonoma County Open)
* No. 8 Liz Kuhlkin (points) vs. No. 13 Cherie Tan (QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship winner).

The lanes are being specially installed inside the Old Dominion Building by QubicaAMF, the official supplier of bowling equipment for the 2019 PWBA Tour Championship.

Visit PWBA.com to view the official PWBA Tour Championship bracket.

To purchase PWBA Tour Championship tickets online, please click here. For all things PWBA Tour Championship related leading up to the event, follow the PWBA social channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

PWBA TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
At Richmond Raceway, Richmond, Virginia
(All times Eastern)

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Practice Session for Matches 1,2,3 and seeded athletes
4 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.:  Practice Session for Matches 4,5,6 and seeded athletes

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
Noon: Matches 1 and 2
3 p.m.: Matches 3 and 4
6 p.m.: Matches 5 and 6

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17
Noon: Matches 7 and 8
3 p.m.: Matches 9 and 10
6 p.m.: Matches 11 and 12

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
8 p.m.:   Live finals on CBS Sports Network

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
Noon - 5 p.m.: Fan Fun Friday in the Old Dominion Building
Bowl with some of your favorite PWBA players!

Includes: FREE bowling with some of the PWBA stars. Giveaways and autographs on-site. Bring your bowling shoes and equipment, if you'd like. House balls will be provided.
*Bowling will be limited during high-traffic times to ensure all fans have a chance to participate*

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