ORLANDO, Fla. - Birgit Poppler may have been nearly 5,000 miles from Germany, but she felt right at home at Boardwalk Bowl on her way to the top seed for the finals of the 2017 Professional Women's Bowling Association Orlando Open.
The 30-year-old right-hander found success at the 80-lane bowling center nearly a decade ago and used that experience to find to comfort while averaging more than 221 against some of the best bowlers in the world over 24 games this weekend.
Poppler was fifth in the standings after Saturday's cashers' round at Boardwalk Bowl and posted a 6-0 record in match play to top the Group A standings with a 5,494 total, locking up a spot in the championship round, which will be taped for delayed broadcast Aug. 6 at Plano Super Bowl in Plano, Texas, and air on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 15.
The perfect effort helped Poppler outdistance Group B leader, Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, who earned the No. 2 seed for the finals based on total pinfall, including bonus pins for each of her wins in match play (5,349).
McEwan sealed her spot on the show with a position-round win against Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, as the two found themselves 29 pins apart heading into the final game. The 25-year-old right-hander closed with six consecutive strikes to win the finale, 221-207.
Poppler and McEwan will be joined in the finals by No. 3 Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, and No. 4 Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, who won their respective group stepladders Saturday to advance.
"I do feel great, of course, and I like that the center had some meaning to me, which helped me feel comfortable," said Poppler, who earned a doubles gold medal with Tina Hulsch at Boardwalk Bowl during the 2008 World Bowling Youth Championships. "I'm going to be staying here for three weeks, and I can't imagine a better start than this."
Throughout each block at Boardwalk Bowl this weekend, Poppler felt more confident in the later games and credits finally conquering the fresh 37-foot oil pattern as her secret to success.
"I struggled on the fresh all weekend, and since we were seeing it every round, I knew I needed to try something completely different, and it worked," said Poppler, who finished fourth in her PWBA television debut at the 2016 United States Bowling Congress Queens. "I felt comfortable in the later games, but being able to score on the fresh during match play really helped my confidence. I'm looking forward to being back on TV, and I hope I can continue to bowl well the next two weeks."
Poppler now will have to research flights for a return trip to the United States for the Aug. 6 television show.
While she is scheduled to compete in the upcoming PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open and Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open, she also is slated to represent Germany at the 2017 World Games in Poland from July 21-24.
The Johnsons, who are not related, experienced their own homecomings at Boardwalk Bowl this week, but for different reasons.
Liz Johnson, 43, has been at home under the TV lights this season and now has qualified for the show in seven of the year's nine events, including a streak of five consecutive TV appearances earlier in the season.
She was victorious at the PWBA Storm Sacramento Open and claimed the ninth major victory of her career last week at the 2017 Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Liz Johnson earned her spot on the PWBA Orlando Open show by defeating four-time PWBA Tour titlist Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, 226-203, in the Group A stepladder Saturday. O'Keefe earned the meeting with the two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year with a nine-strike, 276-203, win against Erin McCarthy of Omaha, Nebraska.
Stefanie Johnson lists Boardwalk Bowl as the place where she truly became a competitor, both as a collegiate bowling standout at the nearby University of Central Florida and later while an employee at the center.
Things now will come full circle for the 33-year-old right-hander, who lives 16 miles from Plano Super Bowl and serves as the center's group sales manager.
She earned her spot in the Orlando Open championship round with a 214-190 win over Kulick, who won the PWBA Fountain Valley Open earlier in the season.
Johnson's place in the Group B final came after three clutch strikes in her final frame against Josie Earnest-Barnes of Nashville, Tennessee. Earnest-Barnes left a 7-10 split, her second of the match, in her own 10th frame, giving Johnson the opportunity to win. Johnson advanced by a score of 207-201.
All qualifying and match play at the 2017 PWBA Orlando Open were held this week at Boardwalk Bowl, while the stepladder finals at Plano Super Bowl will be one of four telecasts at the 2017 U.S. Women's Open, the third major of the season. The show will air Aug. 15 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
Competition this week at the PWBA Orlando Open included two six-game qualifying blocks Friday to determine the 32 players for Saturday's cashers' round.
An additional six-game block Saturday morning narrowed the field from the 32 cashers to 12 players for round-robin match play.
The top prize for the 2017 Orlando Open will be $10,000.
The 2017 PWBA Tour season continues next week with the 2017 PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open at Seminole Lanes in Seminole, Florida.
Go to PWBA.com for more information about the PWBA Tour. Qualifying and match-play rounds of PWBA Tour events are broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association.
All qualifying and match play rounds of PWBA Tour events are carried on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association. Go to XtraFrame.TV for more information.
2017 PWBA ORLANDO OPEN
At Boardwalk Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
MATCH PLAY- GROUP A
1, Birgit Poppler, Germany, 6-0-0, 5,494.
2, Liz Johnson, Deerfield, Ill., 2-4-0, 5,320.
3, Shannon O'Keefe, O'Fallon, Ill., 3-2-1, 5,310.
4, Erin McCarthy, Omaha, Neb., 4-2-0, 5,133.
5, Liz Kuhlkin, Schenectady, N.Y., 0-6-0, 5,110.
6, Laura Plazas (a), Bel Aire, Kan., 2-3-1, 5,090.
MATCH PLAY- GROUP B
1, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 3-2-1, 5,349.
2, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 4-2-0, 5,276.
3, Stefanie Johnson, Grand Prairie, Texas, 4-2-0, 5,250.
4, Josie Earnest-Barnes, Nashville, Tenn., 4-2-0, 5,161.
5, Missy Parkin, Laguna Hills, Calif., 1-5-0, 5,050.
6, Tannya Roumimper, Indonesia, 1-4-1, 5,016.
Group A Stepladder
Semifinal - O'Keefe def. McCarthy, 276-203 (McCarthy finishes tied for seventh, earns $1,900).
Final - L. Johnson def. O'Keefe, 226-203 (L. Johnson earns No. 3 seed for stepladder based on average; O'Keefe finishes tied for fifth, earns $2,100).
Group B Stepladder
Semifinal - S. Johnson def. Earnest-Barnes, 207-201 (Earnest-Barnes finishes tied for seventh, earns $1,900).
Final - S. Johnson def. Kulick, 214-190 (S. Johnson earns No. 4 seed for stepladder based on average; Kulick finishes tied for fifth, earns $2,100).
TELEVISED STEPLADDER FINALS
(Will be taped Aug. 6 and will air Aug. 15 on CBS Sports Network)
Match No. 1: (4) S. Johnson vs. (3) L. Johnson
Match No. 2: (2) McEwan vs. Match No. 1 winner
Final: (1) Poppler vs. Match No. 2 winner
CASHERS' ROUND (18-game totals; top 12 advance)
1, Liz Kuhlkin, Schenectady, N.Y., 3,984. 2, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 3,974. 3, Liz Johnson, Deerfield, Ill., 3,953. 4, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 3,944. 5, Birgit Poppler, Germany, 3,929. 6, Stefanie Johnson, Grand Prairie, Texas, 3,844.
7, Laura Plazas (a), Bel Aire, Kan., 3,824. 8, Josie Earnest-Barnes, Nashville, Tenn., 3,808. 9, Shannon O'Keefe, O'Fallon, Ill., 3,789. 10, Tannya Roumimper, Indonesia, 3,773. 11, Erin McCarthy, Omaha, Neb., 3,765. 12, Missy Parkin, Laguna Hills, Calif., 3,764.
DID NOT ADVANCE
13, Shannon Pluhowsky, Dayton, Ohio, 3,761, *$1,300. 14, Kristina Wendell, Kingston, N.Y., 3,725, $1,200. 15, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Keller, Texas, 3,724, $1,200. 16, Diana Zavjalova, Latvia, 3,721, $1,200. 17, Ashly Galante, Palm Harbor, Fla., 3,716, $1,200. 18, Jen Higgins, Westerville, Ohio, 3,698, $1,200.
19, Jackie Carbonetto, Clarksville, Tenn., 3,689, $1,200. 20, Kaidee Sutphin, Mount Dora, Fla., 3,672, $1,200. 21, Kendra Gaines (a), Orlando, Fla., 3,669, $1,200. 22, Samantha Schaden, Baltimore, 3,663, $1,200. 23, Bryanna Coté, Red Rock, Ariz., 3,660, $1,200. 24, Leanne Hulsenberg, Pleasant View, Utah, 3,649, $1,200.
25, Daria Pajak, Poland, 3,634, $1,200. 26, Brandi Branka, Fairview Heights, Ill., 3,632, $1,200. 27, Verity Crawley, England, 3,571, $1,200. 28, Taylor Bulthuis (a), Coral Springs, Fla., 3,560, $1,200. 29, Alyssa Harper (a), Deland, Fla., 3,538, $1,200. 30, Jessica Barrett (a), Cape Coral, Fla., 3,514, $1,200.
31, Kristina Rosberg, Ord, Neb., 3,460, $1,200. 32, Marcia Kloempken (a), Pleasant View, Utah, 3,424, $1,200.
*Pluhowsky earns $100 as match-play alternate.
QUALIFYING (12-game totals; top 32 advance)
1, Liz Kuhlkin, Schenectady, N.Y., 2,742. 2, Liz Johnson, Deerfield, Ill., 2,685. 3, Laura Plazas (a), Bel Aire, Kan., 2,640. 4, Birgit Poppler, Germany, 2,621. 5, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Keller, Texas, 2,596. 6, Stefanie Johnson, Grand Prairie, Texas, 2,577.
7, Danielle McEwan, Stony Point, N.Y., 2,571. 8, Shannon O'Keefe, O'Fallon, Ill., 2,559. 9, Ashly Galante, Palm Harbor, Fla., 2,544. 10, Josie Earnest-Barnes, Nashville, Tenn., 2,540. 11, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 2,534. 12, Missy Parkin, Laguna Hills, Calif., 2,532.
13, Verity Crawley, England, 2,520. 14, Kristina Wendell, Kingston, N.Y., 2,511. 15, Daria Pajak, Poland, 2,499. 16, Kaidee Sutphin, Mount Dora, Fla., 2,496. 17, Tannya Roumimper, Indonesia, 2,494. 18(tie), Bryanna Coté, Red Rock, Ariz., and Jackie Carbonetto, Clarksville, Tenn., 2,474.
20, Samantha Schaden, Baltimore, 2,462. 21, Erin McCarthy, Omaha, Neb., 2,458. 22, Diana Zavjalova, Latvia, 2,453. 23, Brandi Branka, Fairview Heights, Ill., 2,447. 24, Jen Higgins, Westerville, Ohio, 2,446.
25, Shannon Pluhowsky, Dayton, Ohio, 2,430. 26, Leanne Hulsenberg, Pleasant View, Utah, 2,416. 27, Kendra Gaines (a), Orlando, Fla., 2,404. 28, Alyssa Harper (a), Deland, Fla., 2,399. 29, Taylor Bulthuis (a), Coral Springs, Fla., 2,396. 30, Jessica Barrett (a), Cape Coral, Fla., 2,395.
31, Marcia Kloempken (a), Pleasant View, Utah, 2,387. 32, Kristina Rosberg, Ord, Neb., 2,385.
DID NOT ADVANCE
33, Megan Kelly, Dayton, Ohio, 2,357. 34, Sabrena Divis, Gillette, Wyo., 2,345. 35, Amanda Greene, Romney, W.Va., 2,336. 36, Kayla Bandy, Salisbury, Md., 2,333.
37(tie), Brittany Smith, Johnston, Iowa, and Christina Hardee, Mount Dora, Fla., 2,332. 39, Felicia Wong, Canada, 2,325. 40, Samantha Linder (a), Sarasota, Fla., 2,307. 41, Amanda Fry, Antelope, Calif., 2,305. 42, Bree Macpherson, Australia, 2,302.
43, Ashley Purkey, Godfrey, Ill., 2,301. 44, Summer Jasmin, Beckley, W.Va., 2,292. 45, Melissa Klug, The Villages, Fla., 2,287. 46, Brooke Bower, Camp Hill, Pa., 2,278. 47(tie), Amber Vega, Orangevale, Calif., and Danielle Van der Meer, Washington, Ill., 2,276.
49, Leanne Vastbinder (a), Winter Park, Fla., 2,274. 50, Karen Boyd (a), Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 2,270. 51, Jodi Woessner, Oregon, Ohio, 2,265. 52, Krista Sandt, Bethlehem, Pa., 2,253. 53, Debbie Ayers, La Mesa, Calif., 2,250. 54, Brittany Himmelreich, Cressona, Pa., 2,248.
55, Jenna Williams (a), Homosassa, FL, 2,238. 56, Danielle Johnson, Fresno, Calif., 2,235. 57, Amanda Flood (a), Brandon, Fla., 2,232. 58(tie), Jessica Peters, Toms River, N.J., and Stephanie Martins, Brazil, 2,220. 60, Heather D'Errico, Rochester, N.Y., 2,196.
61, Blair Blumenscheid (a), Columbus, Ohio, 2,190. 62, Katie Stark (a), Clermont, Fla., 2,189. 63, Jessica Lesagonicz, Atlanta, 2,180. 64, Carmen Aguilar (a), St. Petersburg, Fla., 2,161. 65, Kayla Pashina, Minnetonka, Minn., 2,153. 66, Sarah Muench, Johnston, Iowa, 2,151.
67, Jennifer Dovers (a), Sierra Vista, Ariz., 2,144. 68, Nichole DePaul-Miller, Baytown, Texas, 2,108. 69, Lauren Booke (a), Boca Raton, Fla., 2,100. 70, Ann Sperling (a), Byram Township, N.J., 2,036. 71, Nicole Bower (a), Camp Hill, Pa., 2,007. 72, Gabby Mayfield, Lake Isabella, Calif., 260 (WD).