ARLINGTON, Texas – Before Dasha Kovalova was making headlines on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour during her breakout 2019 season, she was garnering national attention as a collegiate standout for Wichita State University.
Kovalova, who starred for the Shockers from 2012-2016, collected plenty of hardware during her college days, earning recognition as a National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association (NCBCA) All-American in each of her four seasons, including three years on the first-team, and being named the top player in the nation during the 2014-2015 season.
Some of the most important lessons learned during that time helped Kovalova grow as a team player, and she’s looking forward to putting those experiences to use in helping the Miami Waves make a run at the Elias Cup during the 2020 Professional Bowlers Association League.
Kovalova will be joined on the Waves by Danielle McEwan, Clara Guerrero, Liz Kuhlkin and Missy Parkin, starting Sept. 26 in Centreville, Virginia. The event will be taking place at Bowlero Centreville and feature 12 five-player teams made up of the top stars from the PBA Tour and PWBA Tour.
Their team is one of two all-PWBA teams competing for the Elias Cup in 2020. The other is the Phoenix Fury, which includes Shannon O’Keefe, Liz Johnson, Jordan Richard, Stefanie Johnson and Maria José Rodriguez.
While many believe putting the best possible players together automatically will translate to team success, other factors such as chemistry, communication and respect among the teammates cannot be ignored.
It's hard to argue with the talent level possessed by the Waves, and Kovalova sees the intangible elements already coming together, too.
“We have a group chat to just talk about different things and check on each other,” said Kovalova, who won two titles during the 2019 PWBA Tour season. “I feel like we’ve already developed really good team chemistry, and I think once we get together to practice for the first time, everything is just going to click for us. We all are very supportive and open to work with each other, but also accepting of our differences.”
Kovalova, who made her way to Wichita, Kansas, for college from Ukraine, credits her time in the Shocker program, under the guidance of United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famers Gordon Vadakin and Mark Lewis, for helping her appreciate what those factors bring to the team environment, which ultimately led to her growth as a teammate and competitor.
“Wichita State really helped me grow as a team player,” Kovalova said. “They teach you how to be respectful and supportive, but also how to play off each other. They teach you what to look for and how to ask the right questions. They helped me become more open to suggestions and more observant of what others are doing. They showed me how I can help others while doing what I can to succeed.”
She believes Waves manager Bob Learn Jr., a PBA Tour champion and part of the 2020 USBC Hall of Fame class, also will play a similar role, noting how he’ll be able to work with the different personalities on the team to help them find success.
The 25-year-old right-hander’s personality quickly earned the admiration of fans during her television interviews after her wins in 2019. She captured her first major at the USBC Queens and rolled a 300 game to win the Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open.
She’s looking to bring that same type of energy to the Waves and Virginia.
“I’ll probably bring some weirdness and maybe a little weird humor,” said Kovalova after being asked what she brings to the team. “I’m just going to try and be at my best, be very upbeat and positive and cheer everybody on.”
In preparation for the PBA League, Kovalova has spent plenty of time on the lanes practicing but only has bowled in a handful of events. Even with the extended break from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she feels she’ll be ready after the first couple of shots roll down the lanes at Bowlero Centreville.
“I went a little crazy without bowling,” Kovalova said. “I really missed it and was eager to get out on the lanes and continue to learn more about my game. But, this break gave me some time to relax, since I’m always traveling and competing, and invest more time into being fit and developing better habits. I’ve been practicing a lot, and I’ll be ready to go.”
The Waves and the Fury are the latest additions to the PBA League in 2020. The teams are made up of athletes who competed on the PWBA Tour during the 2019 season, finished in the top 35 on the season-long points list and were selected during a formal draft.
The PBA League is split into two six-team divisions – the Carter Division and Anthony Division. The Waves will compete in the Anthony Division, while the Fury will be in the Carter Division.
Qualifying at the 2020 event begins Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. Eastern and will be broadcast live on FloBowling. Competition will move to FS1 starting Sunday, Sept. 27 at noon Eastern, with head-to-head match play in the Anthony Division. The tournament will conclude Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern with the finals for the Elias Cup.
Qualifying will consist of 12 Baker games, with bonus pins, to determine seeding in each division. The top two teams in each division will receive a bye to start match play, while the other teams kick off the quarterfinals with a two-game Baker match to determine which team advances in the single-elimination format. If a match is tied after two games, a winner will be decided by a one-ball roll-off.
The winners of each division will advance to the finals, which will feature a best-of-five Baker match to determine the 2020 PBA League champion.