ARLINGTON, Texas - Dasha Kovalova may be nearly 6,000 miles from her native Ukraine, but she's quickly finding a home at the International Training and Research Center, where she paced the field Wednesday through the first day of competition at the Professional Women's Bowling Association Go Bowling Classic.
Her run to the top of the standings was a continuation of the success she had at the ITRC during the season-opening PWBA Kickoff Classic Series in January. At that special event, she collected a pair of top-five finishes in three tournaments and saw that momentum carry over to the second segment of the season, as she picked up the first of her two wins in 2021.
Now a four-time PWBA Tour champion, Kovalova averaged more than 225 over nine games Wednesday and closed with games of 275, 229 and 266 to outdistance the 56-player field in the first of the week's three national tour events with a 2,029 total.
"I lost the lane a couple of times, but I think I did all right overall," Kovalova said. "I was happy with my ball changes, hitting my target and my spares, so it was a pretty cool start to the week. I will work tomorrow to be smarter with my moves and more confident in my ball changes. I also need to remember that if the ball is not working, it really may be the ball and not just me."
The 26-year-old right-hander was followed in the standings Wednesday by Birgit Noreiks of Germany (1,949), Sydney Brummett of Fort Wayne, Indiana (1,930), 2019 PWBA Rookie of the Year Valerie Bercier of Muskegon, Michigan (1,926), and Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (1,921).
The final spot in match play went to Malaysian standout Shalin Zulkifli with a 1,863 total, a 207 average.
Kovalova now will lead the day's top 12 performers into match play, where they'll get another look at the 43-foot oil pattern and battle throughout the day Thursday for four spots in the championship round.
The top four competitors, based on their 21-game pinfall totals, including 30 bonus pins for each win in match play, will advance the stepladder finals, scheduled for Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The winner will take home a top prize of $10,000. All rounds of competition are being broadcast live at BowlTV.com.
The Go Bowling Classic is part of the 2021 PWBA Summer Classic Series, which has brought players from more than a dozen countries to the ITRC. The Summer Classic Series also will include the International Bowling Campus Classic, the BowlTV Classic and the Dallas/Fort Worth PWBA Regional.
January's PWBA Kickoff Classic Series followed the same format, and Kovalova finished 17th, third and fifth in the PWBA Bowlers Journal Classic, PWBA ITRC Classic and PWBA Hall of Fame Classic, respectively.
Though nearly three months passed until the PWBA Tour returned to action, Kovalova didn't miss a beat in winning the PWBA Twin Cities Open in Minnesota in late April. Her second win of the season came in June as the defending champion at the PWBA Louisville Open in Kentucky.
Another break of more than five weeks after Louisville gave Kovalova a chance to reevaluate her game and arsenal, and despite the successful start to the season, she decided to make some adjustments to her fit.
The change also meant the need for an arsenal overhaul, since none of her previous equipment fits anymore. Most bowlers would agree that new balls always seem to strike more, and Kovalova proved that Wednesday.
"I felt like it was very forced, and I had to control everything, and I couldn't be as smooth as I wanted to be," Kovalova said. "So, I changed my pitches a little bit to make sure I could release it better. At first, I was nervous and afraid it might not be a good idea, but I don't feel that way anymore. It changed the way I approach my target, and I actually feel a lot more comfortable now."
Just missing the top 12 on Wednesday was 17-year-old Junior Team USA member Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio, who was the recipient of a special exemption into the event from the United States Bowling Congress/Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.
The opportunity was due in part to her memorable performance at the 2021 Kickoff Classic Series, where she turned in finishes of eighth, second and third and rolled a 299 game live on BowlTV along the way.
She recently tossed her first career perfect game during the 2021 Junior Gold Championships and led qualifying in the 18-and-under division to earn a spot on Junior Team USA for the third consecutive year.
For her nine games Wednesday at the ITRC, Martin averaged 205.89 and finished in a tie for 13th place with Erin McCarthy of Elkhorn, Nebraska, with a 1,853 total. Because she had a higher game during qualifying (248-240), Martin will be the alternate for match play Thursday.
All 56 players who competed in the Go Bowling Classic will return to the ITRC Friday for the International Bowling Campus Classic.
The final national event of the week, the BowlTV Classic, will feature the top 24 players from the Go Bowling Classic and International Bowling Campus Classic, based on their 18-game qualifying totals.
Total pinfall will drop at the start of the BowlTV Classic, and the 24 advancers will bowl 24 games of round-robin match play to determine the five bowlers for the stepladder finals, based on total pinfall and bonus pins.
The PWBA Dallas/Fort Worth Regional will take the spotlight Sunday and feature an eight-game qualifying block, with the top four players, based on total pinfall, advancing to the stepladder finals.
Bowlers with PWBA national titles, as well as those who qualify for the BowlTV Classic, will not be eligible for the regional event.
Each of the stepladder finals will air live at 9 p.m. Eastern on BowlTV.com. They'll take place Thursday (Go Bowling Classic), Saturday (International Bowling Campus Classic), Sunday (Dallas/Fort Worth Regional) and Tuesday (BowlTV Classic).
To learn more about the PWBA Tour, visit PWBA.com.
2021 PWBA Go Bowling Classic
At the International Training and Research Center
1, Dasha Kovalova, Ukraine, 2,029. 2, Birgit Noreiks, Germany, 1,949. 3, Sydney Brummett, Fort Wayne, Ind., 1,930. 4, Valerie Bercier, Muskegon, Mich., 1,926. 5, Julia Bond, Aurora, Ill., 1,921. 6, Daria Pajak, Poland, 1,908.
7, Rocio Restrepo, Uniontown, Ohio, 1,901. 8, Verity Crawley, England, 1,887. 9, Lauren Pate, Fairview Heights, Ill., 1,883. 10, Diana Zavjalova, Latvia, 1,882. 11, Jordan Richard, Maumee, Ohio, 1,873. 12, Shalin Zulkifli, Malaysia, 1,863.
Did not advance:
13(tie), Erin McCarthy, Elkhorn, Neb., and Jillian Martin (n), Stow, Ohio, 1,853, $1,200. 15, Stephanie Zavala, Downey, Calif., 1,849, $1,200. 16, Misaki Mukotani, Japan, 1,846, $1,200. 17, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 1,844, $1,200. 18, Liz Johnson, Niagara Falls, N.Y., 1,843, $1,200.
19(tie), Stefanie Johnson, McKinney, Texas, and Maria José Rodriguez, Colombia, 1,841, $1,150. 21, Josie Barnes, Hermitage, Tenn., 1,830, $1,150. 22, Missy Parkin, Laguna Hills, Calif., 1,829, $1,150. 23, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 1,823, $1,150. 24, Taylor Bailey, Joliet, Ill., 1,819, $1,150.
25, Jen Higgins, Lewis Center, Ohio, 1,809, $1,100. 26, Tannya Lopez, Mexico, 1,807, $1,100. 27, Liz Kuhlkin, Schenectady, N.Y., 1,796, $1,100. 28, Taylor Bulthuis, Coral Springs, Fla., 1,792, $1,100. 29, Jennifer Russo (n), Monmouth Junction, N.J., 1,787. 30, Alexis Neuer, Milton, Pa., 1,786.
31, Ashly Galante, Palm Harbor, Fla., 1,784. 32, Giselle Poss, Maitland, Fla., 1,780. 33(tie), Tannya Roumimper, Indonesia, and Gazmine Mason, Cranston, R.I., 1,767. 35, Ashley Rucker (n), Bartlesville, Okla., 1,757. 36, Maria Bulanova, Russia, 1,754.
37, Breanna Clemmer, Clover, S.C., 1,751. 38, Bryanna Coté, Tucson, Ariz., 1,747. 39, Jennifer Hocurscak, Orange, Conn., 1,743. 40, Summer Jasmin, Beckley, W.Va., 1,738. 41, Jodi Woessner, Oregon, Ohio, 1,732. 42, Shannon O'Keefe, Shiloh, Ill., 1,729.
43, Kayla Crawford, Silvis, Ill., 1,722. 44, Melanie McDaniel, Crest Hill, Ill., 1,709. 45, Clara Guerrero, Colombia, 1,695. 46, Kara Mangiola, Spencerport, N.Y., 1,692. 47, Sandra Gongora, Mexico, 1,685. 48, Jody Scheerer, South Africa, 1,684.
49, Lindsay Boomershine, Perry, Utah, 1,648. 50, Stephanie Schwartz (n), Racine, Wis., 1,643. 51, Kayla Pashina, Minnetonka, Minn., 1,641. 52, Brianna Andrew, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1,599. 53, Caitlyn Johnson, Beaumont, Texas, 1,590. 54, Hannah Brookins (n), Casselberry, Fla., 1,576.
55, Elise Bolton, Merritt Island, Fla., 1,516. 56, Estefania Cobo, North Richland Hills, Texas, 1,493.