ARLINGTON, Texas - Jen Higgins of Lewis Center, Ohio, averaged more than 252 in three championship-round matches Saturday to win the 2021 Professional Women's Bowling Association International Bowling Campus Classic for her first PWBA Tour title.
The 39-year-old right-hander faltered just once midway through the finale against top seed Verity Crawley of England but was able to maintain her look on the way to a nine-strike 252-155 victory at the International Training and Research Center.
Higgins opened the match with five consecutive strikes, before a 4-6-7 split ended her run at perfection and a $10,000 bonus for a 300 game in the stepladder setting. She rebounded with four more strikes to take the win and $10,000 top prize.
"I don't have the words to describe the feeling just yet, but it's definitely something I've always dreamed of," Higgins said. "I didn't really know if it would happen, but I'm glad it did. I'm super excited. Since this is supposed to be my last stop of the season, it was nice to go big before going home."
The 2021 International Bowling Campus Classic was the second of three national events at the PWBA Summer Classic Series. All rounds of competition at the Summer Classic Series, including a regional event, are being broadcast live at BowlTV.com.
A two-time member of Team USA and four-time member of Junior Team USA, Higgins has been a familiar face on the PWBA Tour since its relaunch in 2015 and was a regular threat in top-tier women's events in the decade prior, collecting a pair of fourth-place finishes at the United States Bowling Congress Queens in 2013 and 2014 and continued success at the U.S. Women's Open.
Her best previous finish in PWBA Tour competition was another fourth-place effort, which came early in her official rookie campaign in 2016. She finished that year as the runner-up for PWBA Rookie of the Year.
Being a regular casher on the PWBA Tour has kept Higgins motivated and able to continue competing.
In her first event this year, the Twin Cities Open in Minnesota in April, she finished two pins shy of the cut and cash line, but she felt like things were progressively getting better each week after that.
Higgins had every intention of bowling in the majority of the events on the 2021 PWBA Tour schedule, but a broken toe in early June halted the progress she felt she was making since her season debut. She actually tripped over the suitcase she had packed for her trip to the 2021 PWBA Albany Open.
A month away from the lanes may have been disappointing, but it also may have been the best thing for her game.
"I had a month where I could hardly walk, let alone practice or work out or anything," Higgins said. "When I came back to bowling, it was almost like I dropped all my keys and started from fresh. Then, I started worked on some new stuff. Maybe that's what I needed - a reset button. A reset of my brain and my keys."
While Higgins was away, Crawley found the winner's circle for the first time in her career, following four runner-up finishes since 2017.
Crawley won the 2021 PWBA Greater Nashville Open in June and also felt like her year has been getting progressively better, especially since she missed the first three events of the season due to visa issues.
The 27-year-old right-hander backed up her claim by being the only bowler this week to make the cut in all three national events, and she used a 268-204 position-round win over Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California, to erase a 45-pin deficit and lock up the No. 1 spot for Saturday's stepladder.
"I'm just really happy that I've been putting myself in position to get there, so for me, it's not all about winning," Crawley said. "It's about enjoying the experience and taking away something from every opportunity. I think I'm doing a very good job of that, and I think that's what helping me event to event."
On her way to Saturday's meeting with Crawley, Higgins bowled two nearly flawless matches against a pair of two-time PWBA Tour winners, Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, and Zavala, striking 16 times in 22 opportunities.
In the opening match with Coté, Higgins tossed eight strikes, including four to start her first championship-round appearance since 2016, and cruised to a 248-176 win.
Coté was making her third finals appearance in 2021.
She picked up a victory at the ITRC in January, defeating Junior Team USA member Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio, in the title match of the ITRC Classic. The event was part of the 2021 PWBA Kickoff Classic Series, the first of the year's three Classic Series events on the schedule.
Against Zavala, who led for nearly the entire IBC Classic, Higgins opened with three strikes and capitalized on a second-frame washout from her 25-year-old opponent, who is a top contender for this year's PWBA Rookie of the Year Award.
Zavala managed to rally with five strikes in her next six frames, but it wasn't enough to keep up with Higgins, who won 257-196.
"I've been bowling my whole life and watching it since I was a kid, and this is something I've always wanted," said Higgins, a six-time Ohio Queens champion and a 2018 inductee into the Ohio USBC Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame. "I've put in the time on the lanes and in the gym, and I've practiced with pops, and this is something I truly knew was going to happen. I just didn't know when. It took a while, but I finally got it."
The 2021 PWBA Summer Classic Series brought players from more than a dozen countries to the ITRC, and Germany's Birgit Noreiks was the first to hoist a trophy this week, winning the 2021 PWBA Go Bowling Classic on Thursday. Crawley also made that stepladder but fell to Noreiks in the opening game.
Higgins, Noreiks, Crawley, Zavala and Coté all are among the 24 players who qualified for the final event of the Summer Classic Series, the BowlTV Classic.
They will be back on the lanes at the ITRC on Monday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the first of three rounds of head-to-head matches.
The 24 players qualified for the final tournament based on their 18-game qualifying totals from the Go Bowling Classic and IBC Classic (nine games each).
Total pinfall will drop at the start of the BowlTV Classic, and the advancers will bowl 24 games of round-robin match play Monday and Tuesday to determine the five bowlers for the stepladder finals, based on total pinfall and bonus pins for each match they win.
The BowlTV Classic will conclude live on BowlTV on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern.
First, though, the ITRC will welcome nearly three dozen competitors for the PWBA Dallas/Fort Worth Regional, which will take place Sunday and feature an eight-game qualifying block, with the top four players, based on total pinfall, advancing to the stepladder finals at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Bowlers with PWBA national titles, as well as those who qualified for the BowlTV Classic, are not be eligible for the regional event. Qualifying for the regional will begin at 3 p.m. EDT.
To learn more about the PWBA Tour, visit PWBA.com.
2021 PWBA International Bowling Campus Classic
At the International Training and Research Center
1, Jen Higgins, Lewis Center, Ohio, 757 (three games), $10,000
2, Verity Crawley, England, 155 (one game), $5,000
3, Stephanie Zavala, Downey, Calif., 196 (one game), $3,500
4, Bryanna Coté, Tucson, Ariz., 176 (one game), $2,500
Match No. 1 - Higgins def. Coté, 248-176
Semifinal - Higgins def. Zavala, 257-196
Championship - Higgins def. Crawley, 252-155
(21 games, 30 bonus pins for a win, 15 bonus pins for a tie)
1, Verity Crawley, England, 9-3-0, 4,952. 2, Stephanie Zavala, Downey, Calif., 8-4-0, 4,903. 3, Bryanna Coté, Tucson, Ariz., 6-6-0, 4,789. 4, Jen Higgins, Lewis Center, Ohio, 6-6-0, 4,784.