ARLINGTON, Texas - While making resolutions is the big tradition at the beginning of a new year, Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, started 2018 with a big statement instead.
Over the course of five days at the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials, she proved she was healthy, comfortable with the equipment from a new bowling ball company and focused on some very specific goals.
O'Keefe averaged more than 223 across five World Bowling lane conditions to claim the second USBC Team USA Trials title of her career, and the win was the first of many highlights in a banner year.
Her season included two Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour titles, PWBA Player of the Year honors, three international medals and the top spot on the podium at the QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup.
Now, the 39-year-old right-hander is looking to continue that momentum at the 2019 Team USA Trials, which will take place at the Gold Coast Bowling Center in Las Vegas from Jan. 3-7.
The week also will include the United States Amateur Bowling Championships.
"I've always set my goals very high, but they never seem unattainable if I work hard enough," said O'Keefe, who has been a member of Team USA since 2005. "Despite everything, though, I still sometimes focus on the things that didn't go well. Recently, I was able to see things in a different light. It took a while for everything to sink in, and I don't think that happened until I was turning in my resume for the Team USA selections and I got to see it all on paper. I'm extremely proud and grateful."
O'Keefe, and bowlers from across the country, again will test their versatility on five challenging lane conditions for the chance to represent Team USA and Junior Team USA in 2019. Each block of six games be contested on a different World Bowling oil pattern.
A sold-out men's field of 175 players and record 155 female competitors will begin the first of five qualifying blocks Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern. All rounds of competition will be broadcast live on BowlTV.
O'Keefe, who is the head women's bowling coach at McKendree University, may be coming off a milestone season, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have new goals in mind for 2019, as well as an appreciation for what it means to be on Team USA.
"I'm not approaching 2019 thinking I have to match what I did in 2018, since I think you can have years that are incredibly successful but just look different overall," O'Keefe said. "My first goal is to make Team USA again. There's nothing more rewarding than being part of a team like this. Now, being a veteran and being able to guide some younger players at events this year, it reiterated to me that this is a special opportunity and not something I want to give up anytime soon."
And, since the winners at the Team USA Trials automatically earn the opportunity to represent the United States at the QubicaAMF World Cup, the chance to defend the World Cup title she won in Las Vegas in November also is on the line.
Kyle Troup of Taylorsville, North Carolina, is the reigning men's champion at the Team USA Trials.
His victory last year earned him his first berth on Team USA, and he followed the early success with his third Professional Bowlers Association Tour title, a runner-up finish at the World Cup, including a perfect game in qualifying, and a four-medal performance at the 2018 World Bowling Men's Championships in Hong Kong.
The 26-year-old two-hander won't be at the Gold Coast Bowling Center next week to defend his title, however, as he, and an invitation-only field of the top competitors on the PBA Tour will be in Arlington, Texas, for the season-opening PBA Hall of Fame Classic.
Though the top professionals won't be in the field at the Team USA Trials, defending U.S. Amateur champion Cortez Schenck will be in Las Vegas with his eye on a second consecutive spot on Team USA.
Schenck also is a three-time member of Junior Team USA, and his success in 2018 included a Masters gold medal at the 2018 World Bowling Youth Championships in Detroit. It was the only medal for the Junior Team USA boys.
"Winning the U.S. Amateur and the gold medal at the World Championships were two highlights of my bowling career and definitely have motivated me to work even harder," said Schenck, a 19-year-old right-hander. "I felt like I was struggling before last year's Team USA Trials, so I practiced a lot going in. I thought, in time, I could make the adult team, but I never thought it would happen so soon. It has been a great experience."
Competitors at the 2019 Team USA Trials will earn ranking points based on their finishing positions in each of the five qualifying rounds - the top bowler of the round will earn one ranking point, second place will earn two points, etc. - with the lowest total of ranking points after five rounds determining the men's and women's Team USA Trials champions. Each will earn an automatic spot on Team USA for 2019.
In addition to the title and spot on the team, the winner of each division again will represent Team USA at the World Cup. The location of the 2019 event has not yet been announced.
The top four men and top four women at the 2019 Team USA Trials, based on ranking points, will earn automatic spots on Team USA, while two additional men and two additional women will be selected by the National Selection Committee from the pool of players that competed during the week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.
The National Selection Committee also will select a maximum of five men and five women for the team based on submitted resumes. Those applicants must have been Team USA or Junior Team USA members within the last 10 years or among the top 25 in earnings during the 2018 PBA Tour season or top 25 in points during the 2018 PWBA Tour season.
After the final qualifying round at the Team Trials, the top three amateur men and top three amateur women will advance to a stepladder to determine the U.S. Amateur champions. Both winners will earn spots on Team USA.
If the U.S. Amateur champion already has earned a spot on the team, the spot will be awarded to the next-highest Team USA Trials qualifier based on ranking points.
Once again, Schenck has been hard at work on the lanes to make sure he's ready to perform against the best bowlers in the country. Coming off back-to-back U.S. Amateur stepladder appearances, he hopes to use those experiences to help him succeed in 2019.
"I'll definitely be nervous, since so many great bowlers will be there, but, of course, it would be awesome to be able to win again," Schenck said. "I've learned to take it one game at time and be more aware of the scoring pace because that's what dictates what moves and ball changes make the most sense. I need to be more aggressive at times and be more confident with surface changes along the way."
Jordan Richard of Tecumseh, Michigan, won the women's U.S. Amateur title in 2018 and joined the professional ranks shortly after. She went on to win her first PWBA Tour title and was named PWBA Rookie of the Year.
To be eligible for this year's U.S. Amateur, a bowler must not hold or have held a professional membership (PBA or PWBA) in 2018. Also, anyone who has won a professional title (regional, national or senior) as a professional is not eligible to compete as an amateur.
For youth competitors, the top four boys and top four girls, based on ranking points, automatically will earn spots on Junior Team USA 2019. Two additional boys and two additional girls also will be selected by the National Selection Committee based on performances from either the 2019 Team USA Trials or 2018 Junior Gold Championships.
They will join the youth competitors who already earned their spots on Junior Team USA 2019 through qualifying at the 2018 Junior Gold Championships.
BOWL.com's BowlTV will provide wire-to-wire coverage of the events, including the announcement of Team USA and Junior Team USA 2019.
Visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA for more information about the Team USA program.