ADDISON, Ill. – It may have been the first television appearance of her Professional Women’s Bowling Association career, but you couldn’t tell, as Bryanna Coté of Red Rock, Arizona, coolly defeated two of the hottest players in the world to earn her first career title at the 2016 PWBA Lexington Open.
Of course, the 30-year-old right-hander was among friends in the event’s stepladder finals, so she was a little more comfortable – as comfortable as one could be competing under the bright TV lights against three icons of the modern PWBA, all of whom she’s looked up to for inspiration.
Coté, a three-time member of Team USA, struck eight times in a 228-178 title-match win against Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, who still is without a title in nine championship-round appearances since the return of the PWBA Tour in 2015.
The path to the victory and $10,000 top prize included a 192-180 semifinal victory over Shannon O’Keefe of O’Fallon, Illinois, who was in search of her fourth win of the 2016 PWBA Tour season.
Coté is the fifth first-time champion in 11 PWBA Tour events this season, joining Singapore left-hander Cherie Tan (PWBA Storm Sacramento Open), Colombian teammates Rocio Restrepo (PWBA Greater Detroit Open) and Clara Guerrero (Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship) and amateur Bernice Lim, who became the first player from Singapore to win the United States Bowling Congress Queens.
“I’ve been replaying it in my head, and I’m still in shock that it really happened,” Coté said shortly after the TV set went quiet. “To be a PWBA Tour titlist, to even be able to say that after there not being a tour for so long, is amazing.”
Each player who joined Coté on the PWBA Lexington Open show has played an important role in her development, and while they’re competitors on the lanes, their friendship and Team USA sisterhood runs much deeper once the pindecks go dark.
She grew up near left-hander Shannon Pluhowsky, secretly admiring her as a big sister. She has been inspired by the humble run of success O’Keefe has been on this year. And, like most young bowlers, she has watched with awe as Kulick has blazed a trail for female bowlers.
Now, her name will appear on a champion banner and hang next to theirs, and every other PWBA champion, above the lanes at all future PWBA Tour events.
“Being on Team USA, you become like family, and Bryanna’s like my little sister – I absolutely adore here,” said O’Keefe, who won this year’s Nationwide PWBA Sonoma County Open, PWBA Lincoln Open and Professional Bowlers Association/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles (with Bill O’Neill). “I couldn’t have been more proud of her. She bowled incredible and now has joined the elite group that can call themselves PWBA champions. It was an honor to be able to witness her first title. It gave me chills.”
In the opening match of the Lexington Open stepladder against Pluhowsky, O’Keefe overcame three open frames with strikes in frames seven through nine and had a chance to close out the game, but back-to-back 7 pins in the final frame left the Team USA teammates tied at 180.
The game was decided in a one-ball roll off as O’Keefe tripped the 9 pin forward for a 10-9 win. Pluhowsky, who bowled first, left a 7 pin on her first attempt. Pluhowsky, the lone southpaw on the show, finished fourth.
Coté’s travels as a collegiate standout at Central Missouri and as a representative of the United States have taken her to many memorable places, but her first visit to Kentucky now will stand out as a defining moment in her professional career.
“Kentucky now is going to be my second home,” joked Coté, who was a four-time National Tenpin Coaches Association Player of the Year at Central Missouri. “I actually had two ladies watch me all day Saturday in Lexington, and it meant a lot to have them there. I met them in Las Vegas when I subbed on their squad at the Women’s Championships. After we met in Vegas, they came to watch me in Kentucky, and were there all day. It was like having two grandmas, and I’m so thankful for their support.”
Winning the title helped secure Coté another trip to the Smithfield PWBA Tour Championship.
The 2016 edition of the season-ending event will take place at Uptown Alley in Midlothian, Virginia, from Sept. 1-4. The 16-player field will include all eligible champions from the 2016 season, and the remaining spaces in the bracket will be filled from the points list.
All qualifying and match play rounds of the PWBA Lexington Open were held at Lexington’s Collins Bowling Center-Eastland on July 1-2 and contested on a challenging 38-foot oil pattern.
The stepladder finals were held Aug. 7 at Stardust Bowl in conjunction with the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open and the finals of the PWBA Rochester Open and PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open.
The U.S. Women’s Open finals aired live on CBS Sports Network, while the PWBA Rochester Open and PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open finals will air on CBS Sports Network on Aug. 23 and Aug. 30, respectively.
PWBA Lexington Open
At Stardust Lanes, Addison, Ill.
1, Bryanna Coté, Red Rock, Ariz., 420 (two games), $10,000
2, Kelly Kulick, Union, N.J., 178 (one game), $5,000
3, Shannon O’Keefe, O’Fallon, Ill., 360 (two games), $3,500
4, Shannon Pluhowsky, Dayton, Ohio, 180 (one game), $3,000
Match One – O’Keefe def. Pluhowsky, 180-180 (10-9)
Semifinal – Coté def. O’Keefe, 192-180
Championship – Coté def. Kulick, 228-178