Qualifying: Round 3 | Round 4
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova became the first player on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour since 2017 to successfully defend a title after capturing the win Saturday at the 2021 PWBA Louisville Open.
The 26-year-old right-hander capped a dominating performance during the week at Executive Strike and Spare with a 225-202 title-match victory over Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California, to earn her second win of the season and fourth career PWBA Tour title.
The win garnered Kovalova a $10,000 top prize, and the championship round was broadcast live on BowlTV.com.
She led all but the first round this week in Louisville, and she earned the top seed for the championship round by 274 pins over Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, who qualified second for the stepladder after 24 games.
Kovalova became the first player since Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls, New York, at the 2017 U.S. Women's Open to successfully defend a title. Johnson captured her fourth consecutive green jacket, and sixth overall, with her win at the major championship in Plano, Texas.
Kovalova's win at the 2019 Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open included a perfect game in the title match to defeat Johnson, 300-163. The performance made Kovalova just the fourth player to record a 300 game in a championship-round appearance.
"Being able to defend my title here really means a lot," said Kovalova, the 2019 United States Bowling Congress Queens champion. "I had the same opportunity at the Queens this year, and I let the pressure get to me and struggled. This week, even though the pressure was on and I was nervous, I was able to do it. I'm proud of myself."
In the title match, Kovalova set the tone and took the early lead with three consecutive strikes. An open frame in fifth from Parkin gave Kovalova a 33-pin lead after she responded with her fourth strike of the match in the sixth frame.
Parkin bounced back with three consecutive strikes, starting in the seventh frame, to put pressure on Kovalova heading into the final frames.
Finishing the match first, Kovalova tripped a 4 pin in the ninth frame for a strike and followed with another strike to start her 10th frame, giving her the opportunity to shut out Parkin.
Needing a third consecutive strike, or nine and a spare, to secure the win, she left a 4-7 combination and converted it, but that allowed Parkin the chance to roll three strikes in her final frame to force a tie.
Parkin's first delivery was left of target, and she left the 3-6-10 combination.
"I was very nervous heading into the match and was relying on my ball reps to tell me what to do," said Kovalova, who also defeated Parkin to win the 2021 PWBA Twin Cities Open in April. "I tried to shut off my brain and just focus on not overthinking things and executing good shots. I threw some really good shots at the end and knew I did the best I could, so I was ready to accept whatever happened and roll with it."
Kovalova credited her support system in helping her during her title defense. She admitted to feeling anxious during the week and noted there was some additional pressure after her performance through qualifying, where she averaged more than 231 on the 44-foot oil pattern used during the event.
She was proud to be able to persevere through those moments to collect the title while posting a second consecutive season on tour with multiple wins.
"I'm not sure how I did it, because inside, I felt the most anxious I've ever been," said Kovalova, who made her fourth championship-round appearance of the season. "I had great help with me, though, and I just tried to stick to my process. Chuck (Gardner) gave me a book - "Learn To Win: One Shot at a Time" - and even though it's about golf, I read it, wrote down notes and kept rereading it and going through the cycle that was described, which really helped a lot.
"I'm afraid to disappoint people, so I felt very anxious because I had been leading for most of the week. I start to wonder what will happen if I throw it bad during the title match, but I know I have to just enjoy the journey."
Parkin, the No. 4 seed for the stepladder, advanced to the title match by defeating Bond in a tightly contested semifinal, 232-224. Bond delivered three strikes in the final frame to force Parkin to knock over at least nine pins on her first shot for the chance to move on and face Kovalova.
Parkin, who was looking for her first title since the 2011 Queens, rolled a strike and toppled seven pins on her second shot to collect the win.
She recorded her third runner-up finish of the 2021 season in her fourth championship-round appearance. In addition to the second-place finishes to Kovalova, she also lost to Bond in the title match of the Queens in May.
Bond was looking for her third win of the 2021 season. Along with the tiara at the Queens, Bond claimed the win at the PWBA Hall of Fame Classic in January. She was making her third championship-round appearance of the year.
Parkin began the stepladder with a 236-212 victory over two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois.
O'Keefe was making her third consecutive championship-round appearance, and fourth this season, after a runner-up finish at the PWBA Albany Open and third-place finish at last week's PWBA Greater Nashville Open.
O'Keefe won her 14th career title to start the 2021 season at the PWBA Bowlers Journal Classic.
The 73-player field in Louisville bowled 12 games Friday, before the first cut to the top 32 athletes. Advancers bowled an additional six-game block Saturday morning, with the top 12 competing in a final six-game round to determine the four bowlers for the stepladder, based on 24-game pinfall totals.
The 2021 PWBA Tour season now will take a brief hiatus, with competition resuming at the end of July with the Professional Bowlers Association/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles event in Houston. The tournament will take place at Copperfield Bowl from July 29 - Aug. 1.