Kulick Successfully Defends World Singles Title, Agerbo Claims Gold for Denmark

by Matt Cannizzaro, USBC Communications 0

agerbokulick
Credit: Terence Yaw

ARLINGTON, Texas - Team USA's Kelly Kulick has been one of the world's most consistent performers over the last two seasons, but she has struggled to cash in on her championship opportunities.

That all changed Friday as she successfully defended her title at the World Bowling Singles Championships, defeating 2016 Professional Women's Bowling Association Rookie of the Year New Hui Fen of Singapore, 214-195, at the Qatar Bowling Center in Doha, Qatar.

The final ended in dramatic fashion, with Kulick converting the 4-9 split in the ninth frame but chopping the 6-10 combination in the 10th to give New a chance to steal the victory with two strikes and eight pins. New left a 10 pin on the first offering of her final frame.

Kulick, a 39-year-old right-hander, earned the gold medal for the win, while New, a 24-year-old right-hander, took home the silver medal for the runner-up effort.

"I've had a dry spell the last two years when it came to final matches, and my confidence has been a little shaky," said Kulick, who won the inaugural World Singles Championships in Cyprus in 2012. "I'm over the moon with this victory and being able to hold this title for another four years. Defending your title is always a challenge, especially as the competition continues to get stronger."

The road to Friday's semifinals included 28 games over five days, but the unique format kept the players on their toes all week.

After 12 games of qualifying, the field was cut to the top 32 women and top 32 men, who were broken up into groups of eight within their respective divisions.

Each group bowled eight more games, and the bowlers earned a point for each competitor they beat each game. The top two point-earners in each group then advanced to the third step of the tournament, which used the same point-based format and determined the four bowlers in each category for the semifinals.

Kulick qualified 17th with a 203.83 average for 12 games but improved to 224.62 on the way to the semifinals, where she was joined by teammate Shannon Pluhowsky and Singapore's duo of New and Shayna Ng.

Kulick dispensed of Ng, 216-172, and New earned her spot in the title tilt with a 238-237 win over Pluhowsky. Ng and Pluhowsky tied for third and each earned bronze medals.

The win capped a successful, but frustrating run for Kulick, who has battled a severe ankle injury in 2016 and is winless in a PWBA-best 10 championship-round appearances over the last two seasons.

Last year also ended well for Kulick, who claimed two gold medals (doubles and team) and one bronze medal (trios) at the 2015 World Bowling Women's Championships in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

"This is more than satisfying, and, honestly, it's almost a relief," Kulick said. "I've started to second guess some things, but I continue to work hard and always try to improve. I really needed this to reassure who I am and know what I'm doing is right."

On the men's side Friday in Qatar, Denmark's Jesper Agerbo topped Malaysian left-hander Rafiq Ismail, 256-205, to claim the men's title.

Agerbo gained momentum throughout the week, sneaking into the cut to the top 32 by four pins and eventually earning the top seed for the semifinals, where he downed Joonas Jahi of Finland, 234-168. Ismail defeated Hong Kong's Michael Mak in the other semifinal, 235-224.

Team USA's Chris Via, the leading qualifier on the men's side through 12 games, finished seventh this week, while teammate John Janawicz bowed out after Step 2, finishing fifth among his group of eight Thursday.

Bryan O'Keefe, who also coached Team USA to a successful run at the 2016 Pan American Bowling Confederation Adult Championships in September, was happy to have helped Kulick bounce back from a slow start this week.

"It's a world-championship event, and to come away with a gold medal, half of the gold medals this week, is a great feeling, especially with how the week went for Kelly," O'Keefe said. "She struggled, by her standards, the first part of the week trying to get the ball to do the right things. We came up with a new game plan when she made the cut, and it worked. She was doing something no other girl in the field was doing. To see her come through is why she's one of the best in the world and probably will go down as one of the best ever."

The 2016 World Singles Championships included 134 players from 50 countries, including 81 and 53 women.

The event capped a successful year for Team USA and for O'Keefe as a coach.

"It was a blast stepping in and being a part of the World Singles Championships," said O'Keefe, a USBC Gold coach. "I think everybody had a good time, Qatar was a great host and I think we represented ourselves well."

For more information on the World Singles Championships, visit WorldBowling.org.

2016 WORLD BOWLING SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIPS
At Qatar Bowling Center, Doha, Qatar
Friday's results

WOMEN

CHAMPIONSHIP
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)

Kelly Kulick, United States, def. New Hui Fen, Singapore, 214-195

SEMIFINALS
(Winners advance, losers tie for bronze)

Kulick def. Shayna Ng, Singapore, 216-172
New def. Shannon Pluhowsky, United States, 238-237

MEN

CHAMPIONSHIP
(Winner earns gold, loser gets silver)

Jesper Agerbo, Denmark, def. Rafiq Ismail, Malaysia, 256-205

SEMIFINALS
(Winners advance, losers tie for bronze)

Agerbo def. Joonas Jahi, Finland, 234-168
Ismail def. Michael Mak, Hong Kong, 235-224

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