PWBA Rookie of the Year Honor in Sight for Zavala As She Leads 2021 Reno Classic

by Aaron Smith, USBC Communications 0

RENO, Nev. - Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California, is another step closer to securing the Professional Women's Bowling Association Rookie of the Year award for the 2021 season after a strong opening day at the PWBA Reno Classic.

The 25-year-old right-hander paced qualifying Monday at the National Bowling Stadium with a 12-game total of 2,799, a 233.25 average, on the event's 37-foot lane condition. The top 12 athletes from Monday's qualifying rounds will return to the 78-lane venue Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern, for round-robin match play.

After two six-game rounds of match play, the top four competitors, based on total pinfall and bonus pins, will advance to the stepladder finals of the Reno Classic. The finals will take place Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern on, with the winner taking home $10,000.

Zavala was followed in the standings by Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona (2,766), England's Verity Crawley (2,668), Latvia's Diana Zavjalova (2,652) and Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas (2,640).

Valerie Bercier of Muskegon, Michigan, and Japan's Misaki Mukotani tied for 11th place to earn the final spots into match play with 2,598 totals, a 216.5 average. Two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, who is a top contender for the award again this year, missed the cut by one pin (2,597).

Zavala entered the PWBA Fall Classic Series as the top rookie on the season-long points list, which determines PWBA Rookie of the Year.

The Fall Classic Series features the final three events of the 2021 season - Reno Classic, PWBA Pepsi Classic and PWBA Tour Championship. The Pepsi Classic is taking place Oct. 27-28, and the Tour Championship will be Oct. 29-31 at the NBS.

Zavala's rookie season has included two wins and four championship-round appearances, and a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Women's Open in August placed her 15,050 points ahead of the next closest competitor for the postseason award, Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina.

Zavala had her sights on hoisting the rookie-of-the-year trophy since winning her first title in May at the PWBA Greater Cleveland Open. She knows it's important not to get too far ahead of herself, however, even after the strong start at the Reno Classic.

Clemmer missed the cut at the Reno Classic, finishing tied for 19th place with a 2,538 total.

"It's been on my mind every day since I won in Ohio," said Zavala, who won her second title of the season at the PWBA BVL Open. "Coming into this week, even with a little bit of cushion, you can't get too comfortable. Anything can happen. I really wanted to keep within myself, keep the ball in play as much as possible and not give anything away."

Zavala posted the highest six-game block Monday (1,451) and rolled five games over 245 during the two blocks. Her expectations were a little different following Sunday's official practice session.

"Honestly, this was not something I expected after yesterday's practice session," Zavala said. "I thought this pattern played a little trickier, but it blew wide open. During the transition, I jumped really far to the left and got into a zone not many of the players could get into. I was creating my own transition after that, and they were helping me by staying farther right and giving me a bumper to bounce off. I kept chasing little moves to the left, and it worked out."

The Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic will feature the same format, with the finals of the Pepsi Classic taking place on BowlTV on Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

The combined qualifying totals for the Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic (24 games) will determine the 24 athletes advancing to the season-ending Tour Championship, the third major of the 2021 season.

Pinfall will drop at the beginning of the Tour Championship, with all advancers bowling three eight-game blocks of round-robin match play Friday and Saturday. The top five competitors, based on total pinfall and bonus pins, will advance to Sunday's stepladder finals.

The finals of the Tour Championship will be broadcast Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network, with the winner earning a $50,000 top prize.

The 2021 PWBA Player of the Year also will be determined during the Fall Classic Series this week.

Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova entered the week at the top of the season-long points list, which determines the award winner. Kovalova finished the Reno Classic in 37th place and will drop to second or third in the tightly contested race.

O'Keefe surpassed Kovalova by finishing the Reno Classic in 13th place, but Crawley can hold the lead heading into the final two events if she finishes in eighth place or better Tuesday.

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