ARLINGTON, Texas – Liz Kuhlkin never has been one to hide her emotions while competing on the biggest stages.
From winning collegiate titles to securing gold medals to hoisting the U.S. Women’s Open trophy, Kuhlkin hasn’t been shy about leaving it all on the lanes.
The 27-year-old right-hander’s intensity is part of her DNA, and she’s excited to bring it back to the team environment for the Miami Waves this weekend at the 2020 Professional Bowlers Association League in Centreville, Virginia.
Kuhlkin will head to Bowlero Centreville to join fellow Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour champions Danielle McEwan, Dasha Kovalova, Clara Guerrero and Missy Parkin on the Waves, one of two all-PWBA teams competing in the 12-team league, joining the Phoenix Fury.
The Phoenix Fury roster includes Shannon O’Keefe, Liz Johnson, Jordan Richard, Stefanie Johnson and Maria José Rodriguez.
The Waves are managed by Bob Learn Jr., a five-time PBA Tour champion and part of the 2020 United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame class. The Fury is led by USBC Hall of Famer and 10-time PWBA Tour titlist Kim Kearney.
Kuhlkin, from Schenectady, New York, always has enjoyed the chance to fire up her teammates, and it’s something that’s been on display to national audiences since winning her first of two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles at the University of Nebraska in 2013.
She represented the red, white and blue in similar fashion in 2014, delivering a strike to win the doubles gold medal for Junior Team USA at the World Bowling Youth Championships in Hong Kong.
Making clutch shots in the biggest moments, along with her fiery presence on the lanes, have continued as she’s moved on to the PWBA Tour and Team USA. She claimed her first major championship at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2018 and clinched a trios gold with Parkin and Richard at the 2019 World Women’s Championships.
“If you look at our team as a whole, I’m probably one of the most animated players on the team,” said Kuhlkin, a two-time PWBA Tour champion. “Being one of the players who gets the team fired up always has been part of my persona, even going back to my days at Nebraska and on Junior Team USA. I really love the team aspect of bowling and feel I can bring a certain fire to this team that can benefit us a lot. I feel like all of us have it in our own way, and we all have this intense drive to win.”
Kuhlkin believes the familiarity between the members of the Waves through the PWBA Tour and international competition also will help fuel the team’s chemistry.
“I feel like we all know each other on a certain level through Team USA, the PWBA and staff affiliations,” said Kuhlkin, a three-time Team USA member. “That’s going to be a benefit for us. We’ve had a few Zoom calls and have been talking in a group chat, and we’re really excited to share this together. We all want to win and are very competitive.”
Although Kuhlkin is competitive by nature, tournament competition is something she hasn’t experienced much of lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic and state restrictions in New York.
Bowling centers across the state reopened in the middle of August, and she’s been putting in as much time on the lanes as she can to prepare for the PBA League. Her local leagues started in the middle of September, and she added a perfect game to her collection earlier this week.
“We opened up about a month ago and started leagues last week,” Kuhlkin said. “I’m never going to forgot how to bowl, but it was important to get my consistency and versatility back. I really wanted to be prepared for the PBA League and not let anyone down. I’m feeling confident right now, especially shooting 300 (on Monday). I’ve been putting some scores together, so that’s given me a little boost. We opened up just in the nick of time.”
Before she was able to return to the lanes, Kuhlkin tried to stay sharp through drills at home on a makeshift lane of carpet, blankets and pillows. A spring and summer without tournaments opened up her schedule to allow for more time at the golf course, which also helped ease her back into bowling.
“I did a lot of walking and golfing this summer,” Kuhlkin said. “Our courses didn’t allow carts to be used at the beginning of the pandemic, so I was able to walk a lot of them. That allowed me to keep my legs underneath me, which also is really important for bowling. As I’ve been transitioning back to bowling full-time, I’m not having any aches and pains, so I feel I did a good job of staying active and keeping the body in motion.”
Looking ahead to the event, Kuhlkin is confident in what the team brings as a unit. She knows she can trust her teammates to make the big shots and that the Waves will be well-coached by Learn.
She sees the determination in her fellow PWBA stars and believes all of their experiences together will put the Waves in position to claim the Elias Cup.
“When you look at our team, in my opinion, you’re looking at five superstars,” Kuhlkin said. “You’re looking at five elite players who have major titles, have been in the spotlight and have been in the pressure situations and performed. There’s a deep and driven desire to win, and I believe we are really going to come together this week.”
The Waves and Fury are the latest additions to the PBA League in 2020, which is made up of the top players from both the PBA Tour and PWBA Tour. The Waves and Fury are made up of athletes who competed on the PWBA Tour during the 2019 season, finished in the top 35 in 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 at 10 a.m. Eastern and will be broadcast live on FloBowling. Competition will move to FS1 starting Sunday at noon Eastern, with head-to-head match play in the Anthony Division. The tournament will conclude Wednesday 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.