PLANO, Texas - Over the past year, Poland's Daria Pajak has matured from a green competitor on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour to a confident contender.
This week, the PWBA Rookie-of-the-Year candidate rolled a pair of perfect games and outlasted more than 100 of the best female bowlers in the world to earn the top seed for the finals of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open at Plano Super Bowl. With one win today on CBS Sports Network, the only thing green about her would be the coveted jacket she'd earn as the event's champion. The show starts at noon ET.
The U.S. Women's Open is the third of four majors on the 2017 PWBA Tour schedule. The winner also will take home $20,000.
Pajak, a 24-year-old right-hander, averaged more than 229 over 56 games and posted a 16-8 match-play record to earn the No. 1 spot with a 13,331 pinfall total, which includes 30 bonus pins for each win in match play.
Team USA member Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska, never was far behind, despite severe back spasms during the final round of match play Saturday night, and claimed the No. 2 seed for the TV show with a 13,151 total.
Canada's Valerie Bercier and Nicole Trudell of Bridgeport, Connecticut, each will make their first television appearances as the No. 3 (13,096) and No. 4 (13,044) seeds, respectively.
The final spot in the stepladder belongs to United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer and three-time defending U.S. Women's Open champion Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois (13,026), who will be making her 11th TV appearance at the U.S. Women's Open alone and looks to climb the stepladder for the second consecutive year.
"I don't think any of this really is sinking in yet, but I am already very proud of what I've accomplished this week, especially since I feel I was able to do this well without using my A-game," said Pajak, who won the 2017 PWBA Greater Detroit Open for her first PWBA title. "Going into the show, I just want to enjoy the experience. I will focus on my breathing and being committed to every shot, and hopefully the pins will fall my way for one more game."
The 2017 event marked Pajak's third appearance at the U.S. Women's Open, and she has improved each year, proving that her hard work is paying off. She was 62nd in her debut in 2015 and finished 23rd in 2016.
Making match play at last year's event in Addison, Illinois, was among the most important learning experiences of her career. As the event wound down, and she knew making the TV show was not possible, she used the opportunity to play a part of the lane she was not familiar with (left of the fifth arrow), and doing so helped her journey to becoming a more versatile player.
Ultimately, this year's Greater Detroit Open was the turning point in her career, not because she won the event after considering not even going, but because she rolled her first perfect game at a time she felt she was performing less than perfectly.
"I think that first 300 changed me the most as a bowler because it showed me I don't have to be perfect all the time to be successful," Pajak said. "I shot 300 and made the show when I did not feel perfect physically, and that has helped take some pressure off when I compete."
For McCarthy, being in excruciating pain during the final round of match play actually worked to her advantage because it forced her to stay slow and really focus on her ball speed. As a nurse, she'll use her training to help herself feel as good as possible by showtime.
"My back was feeling fine for the majority of the week, then I woke up a little sore, and it got progressively worse," said McCarthy, who was the runner-up to Johnson at the 2015 USBC Queens. "I'm just going to take it as easy as I can, use ice and heat and hope it feels better, but I also know it will help slow me down and really focus on each shot. Luckily, tomorrow won't be as many games."
Johnson, who won her ninth major title at the 2017 Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship in June, is looking for her fourth consecutive, and sixth overall, U.S. Women's Open title.
She is in pursuit of fellow hall of famer Marion Ladewig, who won the event eight times, including five in a row, but will have to defeat four talented young players along the way.
Trudell, who competed collegiately for Sacred Heart University, was a three-time National Tenpin Coaches Association All-American and the 2011 NTCA Division I Rookie of the Year, while Bercier, a six-time member of Team Canada, was a standout at the University of Nebraska, where she helped the Huskers win at the 2009 National Collegiate Athletic Association Women's Bowling Championship.
Bercier also just returned from representing Canada at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland.
"For as high as the scores were for everybody, I grinded my butt off for every shot today," Johnson said. "I struggled to get the ball through the pins the right way, but I never counted myself out. I didn't have a great look, but I somehow got through it. I'm going into tomorrow with a fresh look and a fresh attitude, and I'm happy to make another show at the U.S. Women's Open. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to win a few games and go for No. 6."
The 2017 U.S. Women's Open started with 114 competitors, who each bowled 24 games of qualifying over three days, before the field was cut to the top 38 for Friday's eight-game cashers' round.
The 32-game pinfall totals determined the 24 bowlers for match play, while their 56-game pinfall totals, including bonus pins, decided the five players for the TV show. There were 10 perfect games this week.
The championship round of the U.S. Women's Open is one of four being contested Sunday at Plano Super Bowl.
The finals of the 2017 PWBA Orlando Open, PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open and Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open will be taped for broadcast on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 15, Aug. 22 and Aug. 29, respectively.
All qualifying and match play rounds of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open were broadcast live on Xtra Frame, the online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association.
For more information on the U.S. Women's Open, visit BOWL.com/USWomensOpen.
2017 U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
At Plano Super Bowl, Plano, Texas
(56 games, 30 bonus pins for a win, 15 bonus pins for a tie)
*(n) denotes non-PWBA members
(Top five advance to live TV finals)
1, Daria Pajak, Poland, 16-8-0, 13,331. 2, Erin McCarthy, Omaha, Neb., 16-8-0, 13,151. 3, Valerie Bercier (n), Derry, N.H., 18-5-1, 13,096. 4, Nicole Trudell, Bridgeport, Conn., 14-10-0, 13,044. 5, Liz Johnson, Deerfield, Ill., 13-10-1, 13,026.
TELEVISED STEPLADDER FINALS
(Will be live Sunday on CBS Sports Network at noon Eastern)
Match No. 1: Nicole Trudell vs. Liz Johnson
Match No. 2: Valerie Bercier vs. Match No. 1 winner
Semifinals: Erin McCarthy vs. Match No. 2 winner
Final: Daria Pajak vs. semifinal winner
DID NOT ADVANCE:
6, Julia Bond (n), Aurora, Ill., 14-10-0, 12,933, $4,800. 7, Shannon O'Keefe, O'Fallon, Ill., 12-12-0, 12,903, $4,500. 8, Stefanie Johnson, Grand Prairie, Texas, 11-13-0, 12,758, $4,200. 9, Jodi Woessner, Oregon, Ohio, 11-13-0, 12,752, $4,000. 10, Bryanna Coté, Red Rock, Ariz., 13-11-0, 12,700, $3,800. 11, Sandra Gongora, Mexico, 14-10-0, 12,694, $3,700. 12, Caitlyn Johnson (n), Lumberton, Texas, 10-14-0, 12,692, $3,600.
13, Maria Jose Rodriguez, Colombia, 9-14-1, 12,645, $3,550. 14, Leanne Hulsenberg, Pleasant View, Utah, 12-12-0, 12,618, $3,500. 15, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 14-10-0, 12,610, $3,450. 16, Clara Guerrero, Colombia, 13-11-0, 12,598, $3,400. 17, Jenny Wegner, Sweden, 11-13-0, 12,588, $3,350. 18, Brittany Smith, Johnston, Iowa, 12-12-0, 12,496, $3,300.
19, Shannon Pluhowsky, Dayton, Ohio, 8-16-0, 12,493, $3,250. 20, Giselle Poss, Montgomery, Ill., 13-11-0, 12,461, $3,200. 21, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 10-14-0, 12,426, $3,150. 22, Verity Crawley, England, 8-16-0, 12,354, $3,100. 23, Ashly Galante, Palm Harbor, Fla., 8-16-0, 12,206, $3,050. 24, Liz Kuhlkin, Schenectady, N.Y., 6-17-1, 12,174, $3,000.