LINCOLN, Neb. - Before the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour went on hiatus in 2003, Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, spent just under two years learning and growing as a competitor new to the tour.
Since the return of the PWBA Tour in 2015, the 12-time Team USA member has been making up for lost time and earned the No. 1 seed for the Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open this week at Sun Valley Lanes.
O'Keefe led throughout the event and averaged more than 219 for 24 games Friday and Saturday to claim the top seed for the televised finals, which will be taped June 26 at The Ashwaubenon Bowling Alley in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and air Tuesday, July 12 on CBS Sports Network.
Clara Guerrero of Pflugerville, Texas, earned the No. 2 seed for the show followed by reigning PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Cheektowaga, New York (No. 3) and April Ellis of Wichita, Kansas, who qualified fourth and will make her first PWBA television appearance.
The Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open will be the second television appearance of the season for O'Keefe, who earned the No. 2 seed for the Nationwide PWBA Sonoma County Open, which airs June 14 at 9 p.m. Eastern, also on CBS Sports Network.
The 37-year-old right-hander is thankful for the opportunity to compete each week and doesn't take it for granted.
"I'm just so grateful," O'Keefe said. "I bowled on the defunct tour for a year and a half, and I was very raw. I had only been bowling for two years when I went out there, but I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to experience it. Now, I'm just so grateful to have a tour to bowl on. When I get frustrated, I just need to take a step back and put it into perspective because I'm so blessed and so lucky to be able to do what I'm doing on the coaching side and to be able to bowl all summer."
O'Keefe is the head women's coach at McKendree University and sees some differences in her mental approach and performance this season in comparison to 2015. Those largely are in part to her interactions with the many student-athletes she coaches, while continuing to use them as inspiration during competition.
"The difference this year really involves my kids," O'Keefe said. "I think about them so much. And the things that Bryan (O'Keefe) and I are teaching them - one shot at a time, if it's a bad shot or you miss a spare, let it go and move on. Yes, I get frustrated, and I still make bad shots, but the one thing that has been our constant at McKendree is just keep coming. No matter what, you never give up, you just keep coming. And that's the epitome of mental toughness. So, if I'm going to expect my kids to do it than I need to live it and breathe it."
Guerrero went 5-1 in match play Saturday and led Group B with a 5,284 pinfall total to claim the second spot in the televised stepladder finals. Johnson and Ellis advanced through the unique dual stepladder portion of the event to join O'Keefe and Guerrero on the show.
In the Group B stepladder, Diana Zavjalova of Latvia and Stefanie Johnson of Grand Prairie, Texas, tied at 207 during their match, forcing a one-ball roll-off to determine a winner. Zavjalova went first and knocked down five pins, while Johnson struck on her offering to move on to the final match.
In a battle of 2015 award winners, Liz Johnson rolled seven consecutive strikes in frames two through eight en route to defeating Stefanie Johnson, the 2015 PWBA Rookie of the Year, 258-200.
Liz Johnson, who won the PWBA Las Vegas Open earlier in the season, will be looking for her second title of the year.
In Group A's opening match, Ellis filled 20 pins in the 10th frame to defeat Rocio Restrepo of Louisville, Ohio, 226-222.
In the deciding game, Ellis stepped up in the final frame and delivered a strike on her first shot to defeat Sandra Gongora of Mexico, 188-176, setting up her PWBA TV debut.
"This is amazing," said Ellis, while holding back tears of joy. "I had some self-doubt in the past, but I never lost hope that I could get to this point. There are some amazing women out here, so to come out and do this is just incredible."
Saturday's competition kicked off with a six-game block that narrowed the field from the 32 cashers to the top 12 players for round-robin match play.
The match-play finalists were split into two groups, each featuring six players. Each group bowled six games of match play, including a final position round, to determine the top seeds and advancers to each group stepladder final.
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