ARLINGTON, Texas - As the 2021 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season began to wind down after a busy August, it became clear the chase for the coveted PWBA Player of the Year award was going to be determined at the season-ending PWBA Fall Classic Series.
The Fall Classic Series, which featured the final three events of the 2021 season, set the stage for a multitude of scenarios and an ever-changing order to the season-long points list, which determines the award winner for the year.
Heading into the PWBA Reno Classic, PWBA Pepsi Classic and PWBA Tour Championship, Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, didn't necessarily have winning the postseason award on her radar.
The 35-year-old right-hander turned in the best overall performance during the week at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada, however, to vault to the top of the points list and secure the award for the first time in her career.
Coté earned the top seed at both the Reno Classic and Tour Championship, finishing as the runner-up at each tournament. She added a ninth-place finish at the Pepsi Classic, and her collective effort at the NBS helped her move from eighth on the points list to the top spot.
She finished the season with one win (PWBA ITRC Classic in January), three runner-up finishes (PWBA Greater Cleveland Open, Reno Classic, Tour Championship) and six championship-round appearances.
Coté made four of her six stepladder appearances during the final seven events of the season, and she finished ninth or better in six of her last seven tournament appearances.
Her runner-up finish at the season-ending Tour Championship, the third major of 2021, helped her lock up player of the year by the slimmest margin since the relaunch of the PWBA in 2015.
Coté finished the year with 129,445 points, just 175 ahead of two-time PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (129,270), who was looking to capture the honor for the third consecutive season.
England's Verity Crawley finished third with 128,900 points and was followed by Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (127,045), and Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova (125,000).
"I had talked with my husband about it, and coming into Reno, we never even thought player of the year was on the table," said Coté after securing the award at the Tour Championship. "I knew the points were very close, especially with two regular events and a major to go, and things could shift around pretty easily. You can't count out those ahead of you, though, because they're there for a reason. All I could do was just bowl and try to bowl great. When I realized I was getting closer and put myself in position to be player of the year, I just stayed the course and tried to stay focused. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be."
Like several of the athletes on the PWBA Tour, Coté finished her collegiate career without a tour to call home. She was a standout at Central Missouri, becoming the first player in NCAA history to be named the National Tenpin Coaches Association Player of the Year for four consecutive seasons (2005-2008).
When the tour returned in 2015, Coté quickly positioned herself as a player to keep an eye on, earning a spot at the Tour Championship. In 2016, she realized a long-awaited dream by winning her first PWBA Tour title at the PWBA Lexington Open.
She was unable to keep the momentum going into 2017, however, dropping to 25th in points and making only one match-play appearance during the season.
"You win your first title and are riding this huge wave of success, then 2017 happened and I wondered if I forgot how to bowl," Coté said. "I'm grateful for the struggle, though. I'm grateful I went through all that. I learned a lot about myself, the game and just how to compete on tour. I came in with a new mindset to take it one shot and day at a time, be patient, don't try to make things happen and never give up. I think 2018 and 2019 really reflected on that, as I was able to be more mentally stable and strong and bounce back from those hiccups life throws at you."
Coté's bounce back in 2018 and 2019 included five championship-round appearances and three second-place efforts, including at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Queens.
With a lost 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coté wasn't sure what the 2021 season would bring with 20 events and a season ranging from January to October.
After kicking off the season in Arlington, Texas, with a 15th-place finish at the PWBA Bowlers Journal Classic, she started her journey toward player of the year with a thrilling win at the PWBA ITRC Classic over 16-year-old sensation Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio.
Martin applied the pressure by striking out in her final frame, but Coté left and converted a 10 pin and got the necessary count on her fill ball to secure a 244-238 win.
"I knew it was going to be a long season, and I really didn't have any high expectations because I didn't get to practice as much as I wanted to, so to win the second event out of the gates was amazing and kind of shocking at the same time," Coté said. "In years past, I had been so close and felt I put in more work and more time and effort to be a winner again on tour. For it to come after being gone for year due to COVID was very shocking and unexpected.
"From that moment forward, I just focused on being as prepared as I possibly could. I had to make sure I was in shape both physically and mentally and sharp on my game. There were some weeks where I wasn't, and I let things get ahead of me and didn't make the cut. Those really taught me a lot. A long season really can take its toll on you, and you have to bounce back as best you can."
In addition to competing in every PWBA Tour event during the 2021 season, Coté also was able to represent the United States at the PANAM Bowling Elite Championships prior to competing in Reno for the Fall Classic Series.
She helped Team USA win gold medals in trios and team competition and collected a bronze medal in all-events in Cali, Colombia.
The journey in 2021 for Coté concluded with her holding the most coveted piece of hardware awarded on the PWBA Tour. It was a moment that helped her appreciate the obstacles she faced.
The tireless effort to the craft, the ups and downs of tour life and travel and competing each week against the best in the world are all expected along the way.
Learning from a heartbreaking 8 pin that cost her a chance to win the 2019 PWBA Fountain Valley Open wasn't necessarily in the script, but it was something she was able to take and lean on as she made the shots she needed to win her second title.
It all allowed her to trust her ability and process, and every second of the experience helped lead her to the top of the PWBA Tour.
"It means it's all worth it," Coté said. "No matter if it takes a day or decade. It's all worth it. It takes patience, but I'm beyond grateful. It makes the stone 8 worth it. It makes sparing a 10 pin to win a second title worth it. It makes all the good and all the bad worth it."