FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - The race to become the 2021 Professional Women's Bowling Association Rookie of the Year is heating up for a talented group of young athletes, and the top nine contenders in points are competing this week at the PWBA BVL Open.
The 2021 PWBA Tour season will continue Thursday at Farmingdale Lanes with the official practice session at the BVL Open. Competition gets underway Friday with two six-game qualifying rounds, before the field is cut to the top 32 players.
Advancers will bowl another six-game block Saturday to determine the top 12 athletes, and a final six-game round will determine the four players for the stepladder finals, based on pinfall totals for 24 games.
The finals of the BVL Open will take place Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern, with the champion taking home $10,000. All qualifying rounds and the stepladder finals will be broadcast live on BowlTV.com.
The BVL Open is the eighth of 20 tournaments scheduled for the 2021 season, and Caitlyn Johnson of Beaumont, Texas, is leading the points-based charge for the rookie-of-the-year award. She sits in 22nd place among all competitors this season.
She's followed closely by PWBA Greater Cleveland Open champion Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California (25th in points), Abby Ragsdale of Aurora, Illinois (26th), Russia's Maria Bulanova (27th), Taylor Bailey of Joliet, Illinois (32nd), and Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina (35th).
Estefania Cobo of North Richland Hills, Texas (40th), Alexis Neuer of Milton, Pennsylvania (44th), and Kara Mangiola of Spencerport, New York (46th), also are in the mix to make a run at the award with a couple of strong performances already in the books this season.
With the future of the PWBA Tour looking bright and the next generation of athletes taking to the lanes week in and out, there's also a lot of learning taking place each week.
Johnson, a 22-year-old right-hander, has experienced success at every level, including at the Junior Gold Championships, as part of Junior Team USA and as a collegiate standout at Webber International University.
Through her first run at the tour, she's noted how it has been important to keep an open mind when facing the challenging conditions at a new center each event.
"I've learned to be OK with seeing something different from block to block," said Johnson, who has a top finish of 10th place this season at the PWBA ITRC Classic. "The 12 games (at PWBA Standard events) go by in a blink of an eye when you're in the moment, and being able to make quicker adjustments has been the hardest part for me. I have to really trust what I'm seeing and be OK with making different moves, compared to the previous block or even game before. It has been a huge learning curve so far, and I've been taking notes nonstop.
"I'm proud that I've been able to keep an open mind and try different things. I'm trying to take everything in as a learning experience. I've also been able to finish blocks strong at the last couple of events to make some cuts, and I've been proud to be able to continue to keep pushing to get better every week."
In looking ahead to the next swing of the tour season, Johnson isn't necessarily focused on the statistics, but rather the process to further her game to the next level after each tournament.
After finishing qualifying in seventh place earlier in May at the United States Bowling Congress Queens, Johnson slowed down in match play, losing her first match and finding the need to alter her game plan moving forward in the three-game total-pinfall matches.
Heading to Farmingdale Lanes this week, Johnson will look to take something from that experience to apply to her time on the lanes at the BVL Open.
"My goals aren't really numerical for the most part," said Johnson, who went 2-2 in match play at the USBC Queens and finished tied for 25th place. "They're more centered around learning and overcoming obstacles I've seen the last few weeks. At the Queens, I started strong and qualified in a high position, but in match play, I felt like my game plan was gone, and I didn't overcome that easily. Looking ahead to the BVL Open, if I'm in that position again, I have to be OK with making a big adjustment and trusting that my execution and preparation will be there."
The BVL Open will mark the PWBA Tour's first visit to New York since 2017 and first trip to Farmingdale and Farmingdale Lanes.
John LaSpina, the president of Maple Family Centers (which includes Farmingdale Lanes), is the chairman for the BVL Board of Directors.
The Bowlers to Veterans Link is a national nonprofit charity 501(c)(3) that supports America's veteran and active-duty service men and women through myriad recreational therapy programs and services to speed recuperation and boost morale to brighten lives. Founded in 1942, BVL is the sport of bowling's oldest and most successful charity, raising more than $50 million for the cause.
To donate to BVL, visit BVL.org.