CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. - The 2017 PWBA Tour is picking up right where it left off last year, it seems. Colombia's Rocio Restrepo, last season's runner-up for PWBA Player of the Year, narrowly fell short of attaining a second consecutive No. 1 seed position after topping last week's field at the PWBA Sonoma County Open, finishing the group stepladder finals five pins shy of top seed and reigning PWBA Player of the Year, Liz Johnson in the Storm Sacramento Open at Steve Cook's Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights, Calif.
While the booming start makes Restrepo a (very) early favorite in the Player of the Year Race, Latvian native Diana Zavjalova, who will be the No. 3 seed when the show airs June 13 on CBS Sports Network after being taped May 23 during the USBC Queens in Baton Rouge, La., hopes her Sacramento Open performance proves to be a new start following some old woes.
Since the Professional Women's Bowling Association's return to television in 2016, Zavjalova had come up just shy of reaching the bright lights. That changed on Saturday as Zavjalova broke through the door to earn her first PWBA televised finals appearance.
History nearly repeated itself in Sacramento, but a determined Zavjalova defeated Amanda Greene of Romney, W. Va., 279-236, in the Group B Stepladder Final in an emotional victory.
Zavjalova, who now resides in Austin, Texas, has run into bad luck on more than one occasion late in PWBA competition, most recently last week at the QubicaAMF PWBA Sonoma County Open. After holding the lead for much of the event, Zavjalova eventually lost in the Group Stepladder Finals to finish fifth.
This week, she again held a lead only to lose it late in match play, but she was a different bowler in the final match thanks to some friendly advice.
"Today, I was just in a different mindset," Zavjalova said. "I had been putting so much pressure on myself in the past because I kept coming so close. It was very frustrating, and to start off this season the same way was heartbreaking.
"Before my match [against Amanda], I was talking to Daria Pajak, and she told me a couple of things that really boosted my confidence. I'm not sure if everyone could see it, but I was smiling and just wanted to bowl happy. Once I started smiling, I felt like that monkey was coming off my back, and that's what happened."
Johnson led the way in Group B with a 5,308 pinfall total, finding success on an unreleased lane condition which forced her to display her versatility. Although she arguably is the most accomplished player on tour, she still embraces all challenges after many years of competing.
"This week required a little more of the C and D game, and that's why I constantly work on my game," Johnson said. "My ball reps had me keeping my shoulders back and square so I wouldn't come around it, and the little things like that helped all week. I did my best to stay out of trouble, and everything kind of came into place. After all of the years out here, I'm not afraid of anything. I may not be as good on some shots as others, but I know I can do it."
The players in the second, third and fourth positions in each group at the conclusion of match play advanced to their respective group stepladders Saturday and battled for the final two spots on the TV show.
The final TV spot went to McEwan, who defeated Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, 195-170, in the Group A final. McEwan advanced to the final match after dispatching Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Ill., 224-190.
Prior to facing Zavjalova in the Group B final, Greene defeated Jennifer Higgins of Westerville, Ohio, 216-201, to advance.
Competition at the 2017 PWBA Storm Sacramento Open began Friday with two six-game qualifying blocks to determine to the 32 players for Saturday's Cashers' Round.
An additional six-game block Saturday morning narrowed the field from the 32 cashers to the top 12 players for round-robin match play.
The 2017 PWBA Tour season continues next week with the PWBA Fountain Valley Open at Fountain Bowl in Fountain Valley, California.
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.