ARLINGTON, Texas – On a May episode of The Professional Women’s Bowling Association Podcast, Colombian star Clara Guerrero was asked which five players she’d select if given the opportunity to manage an all-female team in the popular Professional Bowlers Association League.
The inquiry was hypothetical and fun and timed perfectly with the 2020 PBA League draft, which had happened a day earlier, live on FloBowling.
About a month later, what was asked on the podcast simply for entertainment purposes, turned out to be a case of foreshadowing, as the PBA announced it would be adding two women’s teams to the field for the 2020 edition of the PBA League – the Phoenix Fury and Miami Waves.
Being fifth on the 2019 PWBA Tour points list easily earned Guerrero a spot among the 35 players eligible to be chosen, and the 38-year-old right-hander was selected sixth overall by Waves manager Bob Learn Jr., a PBA champion and member of the 2020 United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame class.
Though Guerrero didn’t have a role in selecting her teammates, she knows any combination of players from the PWBA’s deep talent pool would’ve made for a top-tier contender in the 12-team league.
Her squad ended up being very diverse in age and background, but the thing that stands out most to her about their commonalities is that they’ve all proven themselves on the biggest stages to become major champions.
She will be joined on the lanes at Bowlero Centreville in Centreville, Virginia, by a quartet of PWBA titlists – Danielle McEwan, Dasha Kovalova, Liz Kuhlkin and Missy Parkin, while the Phoenix Fury roster will include Stefanie Johnson, Liz Johnson, Shannon O’Keefe, Jordan Richard and Maria José Rodriguez.
USBC Hall of Famer and 10-time PWBA Tour titlist Kim Kearney is the Phoenix Fury manager.
“Finding out the tour season was canceled after we’d worked so hard to get ready was very tough for us, so we’re excited about this amazing opportunity, especially in such a difficult year,” Guerrero said. “I was anxious on our draft day and hoping to hear my name, but you just never know what could happen, especially with the number of talented players the managers had to choose from. I’ve always enjoyed the team environment and bowling for Colombia, and I’m excited to share the lanes with such great competitors.”
McEwan, a longtime member of Team USA, is a five-time PWBA Tour champion, including the 2015 PWBA Tour Championship and 2019 U.S. Women’s Open. Kuhlkin, also a Team USA member, owns two PWBA Tour titles, including the U.S. Women’s Open in 2018.
Kovalova, a relatively recent graduate of Wichita State University who hails from Ukraine, picked up two PWBA Tour titles in 2019, including the USBC Queens.
Parkin won the Queens in 2011, and she and Guerrero have been friends since meeting at the Lee Evans Tournament of the Americas in the late 1990s. They’ve also roomed together while traveling to PWBA Tour events.
The 12 teams in the PBA League this year, up from eight traditionally, will feature the top stars from both the PBA Tour and PWBA Tour. For the race to the Elias Cup, the coveted prize of the PBA League, the teams will be split into two divisions – Carter and Anthony – named after two of the sport’s greatest competitors, Don Carter and Earl Anthony.
Guerrero, winner of the 2016 Go Bowling PWBA Players Championship, and the Miami Waves will compete in the Anthony Division, and the Phoenix Fury will be in the Carter Division.
Qualifying at Bowlero Centreville is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Eastern on Sept. 26 and will be broadcast live on FloBowling. Competition will move to FS1 starting Sept. 27 at noon Eastern, with the Anthony Division quarterfinals getting head-to-head match play underway. The championship match will take place Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Guerrero and Parkin may be the veterans for the Miami Waves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be the ones called upon to throw the most crucial shots in the PBA League’s unique Baker format, where each player rolls two frames each game.
Actually, Guerrero doesn’t want to define any specific role for herself or her teammates just yet. She’d prefer to wait and see how the chemistry looks as they get more comfortable in the PBA League and on a team together for the first time.
She knows all five team members have thrown the big shots when they needed them, and they’re all equally intense in their own ways. Also, as she noted in her original podcast interview, she’d be perfectly comfortable leaning on the competitor with the best look with a game, match or even the title, on the line.
“Even though I’ve never played in the league or been on a team with these ladies, we know each other well, and three of the team members have bowled together on Team USA,” said Guerrero, who is a 22-time member of Team Colombia and a past standout for Wichita State. “I feel like me and Dasha will find comfort in that and have no trouble fitting in.
“I do hope my experience in the team environment will help the team and the energy, but I don’t want to put myself into any specific role. Maybe after we see the energy and how all the personalities fit together. For now, the goal is to enjoy the moment and the cool experience and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Guerrero’s journey to join her team in Virginia will be her second trip overall, and first flight, since COVID-19 changed the world’s agenda for 2020.
She and her husband, Josh, drove to Florida for the PBA King of the Lanes event in July, but since family and fans won’t be part of the PBA League experience at Bowlero Centreville, flying was the logical option this time.
Outside of these two events, Guerrero has spent most of the recent months at home in the Austin, Texas, area or practicing locally, with a comfortable distance between her and any other patrons. She also has stayed busy by giving lessons, but in a safe and limited capacity.
A combination of weight training and active rest days has helped her excel physically, while a five-day-a-week practice regimen has her game sharp, too, despite a lack of formal competition.
“I have been very cautious about COVID and don’t want to put my family at risk, so I have spent the majority of my time at home or a comfortable distance from others, especially while at the center practicing,” Guerrero said. “I have noticed a big change in my body, thanks to the workouts, and I’ve tried to keep my practicing simple, but focused. I try to go when the center is empty, and if it starts to get crowded, I just leave for the day. I’ve definitely missed being able to compete, but I’m OK with it, if it means being safe.”
Even as Texas has opened up more, allowing for many local and regional bowling events, Guerrero has maintained her routine, even though it has meant not bowling competitively for many months.
Still, she is confident in where she is physically and ready to contribute to the her team’s success against some of the best bowlers in the world.
The biggest test for her actually will be more mental, as she addresses the anxiety of travel and competition in a COVID-19 world.
“This will be my first time around so many people, so I guess this is the moment for me to confront life and get used to the new way of things,” Guerrero said. “I just have to trust that everyone has been as safe as possible and that all the necessary protocols will be taken once we get there. It’s going to be a great event, and I can’t wait to compete against everyone, especially the guys. Something like this is totally worth the anxiety, and I can’t wait to get back on the lanes.”
The Portland Lumberjacks, led by USBC Hall of Famer Tim Mack, hoisted the Elias Cup in 2019. The team included the 2019 Mark Roth PBA League Most Valuable Player Wes Malott, Kris Prather, Kyle Troup, Ryan Ciminelli and Mitch Hupé.
In 2020, Mack’s team will include Malott, Prather, Troup, Packy Hanrahan and Sweden’s Martin Larsen.