With the 2017 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour season quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look into the crystal ball to see what excitement the PWBA has in store for its fans this year.
We’ve assembled a panel of several well-known names in the bowling community to see who they thought we’d be keeping an eye on during the season.
In the next week, we’ll ask them three questions:
- Who’s going to be the breakout performer in 2017?
- Who’s going to win Rookie of the Year in 2017?
- Who’s going to win Player of the Year in 2017?
In 2016, Shannon O’Keefe of O’Fallon, Illinois, and Colombia’s Rocio Restrepo highlighted our breakout performers list as each won multiple times during the season.
O’Keefe already owned a PWBA title from the 2015 Professional Bowlers Association/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles with Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, but she busted through on her own at the Nationwide PWBA Sonoma County Open, capturing her first individual title. O’Keefe would also go on to win the Pepsi PWBA Lincoln Open and defend her title at the Luci with O’Neill, turning in a three-win effort in 2016.
Restrepo, who now resides in Louisville, Ohio, was inching closer and closer to the top spot throughout the 2015 season, including a runner-up finish at the PWBA Minnesota Open. When the fiery right-hander earned the top seed at the 2016 PWBA Greater Detroit Open, it was Restrepo’s time to shine as she collected her first career title. She added a second win at the PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open, vaulting her in contention for Player of the Year.
Who’s going to follow O’Keefe’s and Restrepo’s path in 2017? Here’s what our panel thinks:
Fran Deken – PWBA and USBC Hall of Famer
The breakout player may be Erin McCarthy, who took the Team USA Trials title. She has made some changes to her game, and she possesses the focus and determination to win. There’s no quit in this young lady.
Others way overdue for pro wins are Kelly Kulick, Shannon Pluhowsky and Missy Parkin. Sure, they’ve won titles in the past, but they still want to win on the new PWBA Tour. Kelly and Shannon may be spread a little too thin with other commitments, and Missy needs to stay healthy, but those three are always a threat.
Jackie Wyckoff – International Bowling Media Association
This will be the year that Kelly Kulick puts it all together. Having just celebrated her 40th birthday, Kulick no longer qualifies as a young gun by PWBA Tour standards.
But the drive and ambition is still there, and her game isn’t far behind.
Kulick’s 2016 season was a disappointment, finishing seventh on the overall points list and eighth in the money. I don’t see that happening in 2017. Her work ethic is stellar and she has cut back on international events.
I am not sure she can ever be the Kulick of 2010, when she tore up the lane by winning three majors – the USBC Queens, U.S. Women’s Open and the historic PBA Tournament of Champions. I can see her having a breakout season, and I predict a second-place finish in the Player of the Year race.
No matter where these ladies end up on the points list, 2017 promises to be an awesome season for women’s bowling with the wealth of talent on the PWBA Tour. If there is a tour stop near you, go. Watch the action. Bowl the Pro-Am. Support these talented women. You will not be sorry.
Gianmarc Manzione – Bowlers Journal International
Erin McCarthy’s unreal performance at the 2015 USBC Queens provided a glimpse of her potential, which seems as unlimited as it is unrealized. She averaged 261 in her final two matches to secure the No. 1 position on the show, destroying Singapore’s Kristin Quah, 771-603, then demolishing Liz Johnson, 795-651, though Johnson got her revenge on the show as she defeated McCarthy for the title.
More recently, she posted a clutch, 10th-frame strike to surpass Shannon O’Keefe and hold off a surging Kelly Kulick at the 2017 Team USA Trials, securing that title and a spot in the 2017 QubicaAMF World Cup in Hermosillo, Mexico, along with men’s winner Jakob Butturff.
Between those two high points in her career, she either has made or contended for a show here and there on the PWBA Tour — finishing fourth at the 2015 PWBA Lincoln Open and qualifying for the PWBA Tour Championship that year, where she finished eighth; and logging a high finish of sixth in 2016, at the PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open.
McCarthy’s PWBA Tour tenure has seen her establish herself as a perennial top-20 finisher — she finished in the top 20 in five out of the last seven individual tournaments last year after a slow start to the season, with several of those finishes falling in the top 10. With a Team USA Trials title to bolster her confidence, if not her resume, McCarthy may be poised to prove that she is much more than just a top-20 talent; she belongs among the tour’s elite.
Emil Williams Jr. – PWBA Communications
It was difficult for me to narrow down this category. It would not be shocking to see players such as Erin McCarthy, Sandra Gongora, Anggie Ramirez Perea, Maria Jose Rodriguez, Jen Higgins, etc., capture a title.
But Shannon Pluhowsky and Diana Zavjalova, whose 2016 seasons could be described as simply unlucky, are on the cusp of an all-out assault to the 2017 winner’s circles.
A few numbers for you to consider: Pluhowsky tied for the tour lead in TV appearances with five, was a top-five finisher in points, match-play appearances and earnings, and, was in the top 10 in average and cashes. That alone could constitute a breakout season, but the two-time major winner did not hoist a trophy in 2016, finishing as runner-up at the PWBA Las Vegas Open, PWBA Storm Sacramento Open and the U.S. Women’s Open. Pencil in Pluhowsky for a minimum of two titles in 2017, and if she remains in the top 10 in all statistical categories, she’ll give the PoY a run, too.
For someone who finished ninth in points and was in the top five in cashes, match-play appearances and average, Zavjalova experienced some bad luck in Group Stepladder Finals. DZ began the Nationwide PWBA Sonoma County Open with a 300 game, and either led or was in the top three after each round. She lost a couple of tough games in match play, and, ultimately lost her Group Stepladder Final to miss the TV show.
In Wichita, it was more of the same. She led two rounds and in the Group Stepladder Final then watched Malaysia’s Syaidatul Hamidi roll a 300 against her. And, in keeping with the theme, despite not leading at any point during the PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open, Zavjalova went 5-1 in match play to make another Group Stepladder Final appearance, and finished fifth.
That’s enough bad luck for one person, and it probably won’t happen again this season. I expect the major winner to climb the TV mountain a few times this season to win in 2017.
To follow the PWBA Tour throughout the season, be sure to keep an eye on PWBA.com, the official PWBA Facebook and Twitter pages and Xtra Frame, the official exclusive online bowling channel of the Professional Bowlers Association. To subscribe to Xtra Frame, visit XtraFrame.TV.