RENO, Nev. - Latvia's Diana Zavjalova overcame a year of heartbreak at the 2017 United States Bowling Congress Queens as she collected the second tiara of her young and promising career.
The 26-year-old right-hander considers the event one of her favorites each year on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour schedule, and she's geared up for her latest title defense, which begins Thursday at the National Bowling Stadium.
The 2018 USBC Queens will run from May 17-22 at the famed 78-lane venue, with the stepladder finals being broadcast live on CBS Sports Network on May 22 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Zavjalova put together a solid campaign during the 2016 PWBA Tour season, but she was unable to make a single championship-round appearance, despite making match play 11 times.
Her 2017 Queens win at the Raising Cane's River Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, allowed her to thrive under the bright lights of television once again, where she always has displayed the confidence to win.
Zavjalova's 247-216 title-match victory over USBC Hall of Famer Liz Johnson of Palatine, Illinois, let her show off those strengths as she became the 10th bowler in tournament history to win the Queens for a second time.
She now can join a more exclusive club if she's able to successfully defend her title in Reno. USBC Hall of Famers Mildred Ignizio (1967, 1970, 1971) and Wendy Macpherson (1988, 2000, 2003) are the only players who have won the coveted tiara three times.
"This is my favorite tournament of the year," said Zavjalova, who won the 2013 Queens in Henderson, Nevada. "I love the format and love bowling head to head. It's just you and me on the same pair, and let's see who's better. I feel I'm very competitive when it comes to that."
As the 2018 PWBA Tour season approached, Zavjalova kept her focus on the Queens as she continued to prepare for the physical challenge of a 14-event run.
She found success at the first event of the season, earning the top seed for the stepladder finals of the PWBA Las Vegas Open. She lost to Singapore's Shayna Ng in the title match, 231-211, and followed that with 22nd- and 13th-place finishes at the PWBA Sonoma County Open and PWBA Fountain Valley Open, respectively.
"Getting ready for the season, I set goals," said Zavjalova, who also won the 2015 PWBA Minnesota Open. "And winning Queens was one of the bigger goals. When I was at the gym and would start to get tired, I'd think about winning the Queens again and keep going. This tournament pushes me to work harder. I'm OK with how I finished at Fountain Valley because I looked at it as extra preparation for the Queens. Now, I know what I need to work on. My keys will be to stay focused on making one shot at a time and trying to not get ahead of myself."
As the defending champion, Zavjalova is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the double-elimination match-play bracket at the Queens, but bowling qualifying will give her a chance to improve her seeding as well as get comfortable with a familiar foe in the NBS.
Zavjalova admits she hasn't always performed her best at The Taj Mahal of Tenpins, but her win at the 2017 World Bowling Tour Finals in November over Danielle McEwan, the winner of last week's PWBA Fountain Valley Open, gives her confidence moving forward.
"Winning the World Bowling Tour Finals was a breakthrough in that building," Zavjalova said. "Now, I know I can win there, so if I get to Reno and get in the right mindset, I think I have a very good chance of defending my title. But, it doesn't matter if you're first or 64th. All pins drop, and then it's just you and me. I'm going to treat those 15 games like practice to find my best look and see what's out there."
All competitors at the 2018 Queens will bowl 15 games of qualifying over three days starting Thursday at noon Eastern to determine the 63 bowlers joining Zavjalova in match play.
The match-play bracket will feature three-game matches with total pinfall determining who advances. The five players who make their way through the bracket will advance to the stepladder finals and have the chance to take home the top prize of $20,000.
All rounds of competition leading up to the stepladder finals will be broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association. To subscribe to watch the action on Xtra Frame, visit XtraFrame.TV.