Johnson wins 2023 PWBA Pepsi Open for first PWBA Tour victory

Johnson wins 2023 PWBA Pepsi Open for first PWBA Tour victory

WATERLOO, Iowa – Caitlyn Johnson of Beaumont, Texas, is not a Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour member.

She used to be, but she let her membership lapse because her position as a bowling center general manager doesn’t typically afford her enough time off to travel to tournaments on a weekly basis throughout the season.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s desire to test herself against the best female bowlers in the world never went away, and it likely won’t anytime soon because now the 24-year-old right-hander has proven that she belongs among them.

That fact was made quite clear Saturday night when Johnson struck on seven of her final nine shots to complete a thrilling 197-181 come-from-behind victory over Latvia’s Diana Zavjalova to win the 2023 PWBA Pepsi Open, which was contested at Cadillac Xtreme Bowling Center.

Because she was bowling the event as a non-member, Johnson wasn’t credited with a PWBA Tour title; she was, however, still able to collect the $10,000 first-place prize.

What was perhaps even more valuable to Johnson though was the realization that she has what it takes to go up against and beat the best.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable and confident in my abilities after a win like this,” Johnson said. “I hadn’t bowled a PWBA tournament in two years, so I came out here this week to sort of get my name back out there and be able to test what I’ve been seeing back home. Based on what happened out here these last two days, I’d say it’s working pretty good.”

Johnson certainly enjoyed a great deal of success during those two days, rolling a pair of 300 games, leading the field after Friday’s 12 games of qualifying and continuing to stay out front throughout match play on Saturday en route to earning the No. 1 seed for the stepladder finals.

But for as smoothly as Johnson navigated the first two phases of the Pepsi Open, the championship match proved to be a significantly bumpier ride.

That’s because Johnson managed just one strike during the first five frames of her bout with Zavjalova, which came as something of a surprise seeing as how Johnson had thrown more strikes than just about anyone in the field during the course of her first 24 games.

Worse yet was the fact that not only was Johnson not striking, but she was also leaving splits, three in the first five frames to be exact.

Johnson’s misfortune started when her ball sailed wide and left the 2-4-10 in the second frame. She skillfully converted that split, but she was unable to do the same with the 4-7-9 she left in the third frame or the 4-6-7-10 she was saddled with in the fifth.

Zavjalova, meanwhile, shook off two early splits of her own and notched a turkey in frames four through six to grab a 27-pin lead halfway through the championship match.

At that point, it looked like it just wasn’t going to be Johnson’s night and that despite having led the Pepsi Open wire to wire, she was going to have to settle for second.

In some ways, had things turned out that way, Johnson wouldn’t have been terribly surprised.

“I’ve always seen myself as the person who doesn’t win; I get second,” Johnson said. “I’ve finished second multiple times in big events, so I’ve always sort of seen myself as the queen of second.”

But that moniker didn’t hold up on Saturday night; instead, she became the comeback queen.

Unwilling to let the early struggles get her down, Johnson went to work, throwing a turkey of her own in the sixth, seventh and eighth frames.

Those clutch strikes didn’t just get Johnson close; they actually allowed her to retake the lead after Zavjalova suffered a 6-7-10 split and opened in the eighth.

When Johnson stepped up for her final two frames, she had the opportunity to lock Zavjalova out and guarantee victory.

That wouldn’t happen, however, as her pocket shot in the ninth frame left a 10 pin, which she converted.

Even though the chance to shut Zavjalova out was gone, the opportunity to apply a great deal of pressure to her was not.

That’s precisely what Johnson did, delivering three flush strikes in the 10th frame to post a final score of 197.

It was the second-lowest game Johnson recorded all tournament long – her lowest was the 193 she notched during the final game of Saturday morning’s opening round of match play – but it was still enough to force Zavjalova to have a big finish of her own in the 10th.

The math was simple.

Zavjalova needed a double and six pins to tie. Anything more, and she’d win her second PWBA Tour title in two days – she won the Waterloo Open at Cadillac Xtreme Bowlnig Center on Thursday night. Anything less, and Johnson would be the tournament champion.

Zavjalova has proven herself to be a tremendous pressure performer many times throughout her career, but things didn’t go her way this time around as her first ball in the 10th drifted high, leaving the 3-10 baby split and officially ending the match in Johnson’s favor.

In that moment, Johnson needed a second or two to fully grasp what had just transpired.

“It actually took until Diana (Zavjalova) went to shoot her spare for me to realize that I’d just won,” Johnson said. “My first thought was ‘did that really just happen?’ Honestly, it was more like ‘did this last two days really just happen; did I just shoot 300 twice and basically lead wire-to-wire?’

It most certainly did, and because of that, Johnson is already beginning to think about when she might be able to get back out and bowl on tour again.

“I’ve really missed being out here competing and seeing my friends, so I’m going to really study the 2024 season schedule a bit more to see what I can and can’t show up to,” Johnson said.

Despite finishing second on Saturday night, Zavjalova certainly showed up in a big way once again.

Making her fifth consecutive stepladder finals appearance, Zavjalova recorded wins over Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio (260-205), and England’s Verity Crawley (235-214) before falling to Johnson in the title match.

Not only did the second-place finish earn Zavjalova $5,000, but it also moved her even closer to Jordan Richard of Tipton, Michigan, in the 2023 PWBA Player of the Year race, which will be determined at the Tour Championship.

Martin took home $3,500 for finishing third on Saturday night; Crawley placed fourth and earned a check for $2,500.

Jasmine Snell of Papillion, Nebraska, fell to Crawley by a final score of 246-202 during Saturday night’s opening stepladder match. Snell placed fifth and walked away with $2,000.

The Pepsi Open was the second tournament of PWBA Championship Week – Waterloo, which included the PWBA Waterloo Open, Pepsi Open and Tour Championship, the final major of the 2023 PWBA Tour season.

The Tour Championship will begin Sunday evening at 6 p.m. Eastern.

In order to qualify for the Tour Championship, a player must be a current PWBA member in good standing and have won a National Tour title during the 2023 season. The remainder of the field will be filled from the PWBA season points list through the most recent tournament preceding the Tour Championship, which was the Pepsi Open.

All Tour Championship competitors will be seeded into the round-robin match play schedule according to their position on the season points list after the Pepsi Open.

Those 24 players will bowl three eight-game rounds of round-robin match play starting Sunday evening. Additional eight-game blocks of matches will be contested on Monday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern to determine the top five for the stepladder finals.

The stepladder finals will start at 7 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday and determine which player wins the 2023 PWBA Tour Championship and its $50,000 first-place prize. The finals will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

All rounds leading up to the CBS Sports Network broadcast will be livestreamed at

Categories: Tournaments, Players
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