WICHITA, Kan. - It could be déjà vu for defending United States Bowling Congress Queens champion Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, as she prepares for the 2019 edition of the event starting Wednesday at Northrock Lanes.
The USBC Queens, the first major championship on the 2019 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour schedule, will welcome nearly 200 of the top bowlers in the world from May 15-21.
BowlTV.com will have live coverage of all qualifying and match-play rounds leading up to the stepladder finals, which will be televised live on CBS Sports Network on May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
O'Keefe captured the Queens title last year with a 221-189 victory over Bryanna Coté of Red Rock, Arizona, at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada. The victory helped propel her to 2018 PWBA Player of the Year honors.
Her run to the coveted award began with a strong start, which included a win at the second stop of 2018 PWBA Tour season, the PWBA Sonoma County Open, before she made her way through the double-elimination match-play bracket at the Queens to claim her second major title.
Her start in 2019 has mirrored that effort, as she claimed her ninth career title earlier in May at the PWBA Twin Cities Open, the second stop of the 2019 PWBA Tour season.
"It's nice that these seasons have started out very similar, because last year was very successful for me," O'Keefe said. "I'm excited to be back, but I'm not trying to think about repeating. I'm just trying to think about going through the process. The nice thing is I'm guaranteed to be in match play, but there's so much to learn in qualifying. I'm really going to try and embrace that and approach it like any other week."
As the defending champion, O'Keefe is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the double-elimination match-play bracket, but she'll have the opportunity to improve her seeding through qualifying.
The Queens also serves as part of Team USA's women's qualifying process for this summer's Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, and the 15-time Team USA member plans to do all she can to earn one of the two women's spots for the event that will take place July 26-Aug. 11.
The Pan American Trials, held in March, accounted for 60 percent of the qualifying process, while the remaining 40 percent comes from the Queens, where Team USA members will earn points based on their finishes in qualifying and match play.
"The Pan American Games is an event I've always wanted to bowl," said O'Keefe, who sits third in qualifying, behind Stefanie Johnson and Kelly Kulick, through the Pan American Trials. "It's the closest thing we have to the Olympics, so if I can go out this week and lead qualifying and finish strong in match play to secure my spot in Peru, it would be a big thing for me. I'm at the point in my career where I'm starting to look at things I haven't done yet, and those become the next items to check off my bucket list."
O'Keefe will look to rely on her process to put herself in position to make another trip to the stepladder finals, but regardless of the outcome, she's humbled to be among the list of great players who have worn the coveted tiara awarded to the champion.
"I think the Queens is the hardest major to win because anything can happen in match play," O'Keefe said. "Last year, I really stuck to my mental process and focused on controlling what I could control and not on what my competitors were doing, which is so tough to do during a match. I'm grateful to have been able to add my name to the list of women who paved the way for me, and having my name associated with this title is an incredible honor."
All competitors at the 2019 Queens will bowl 15 games of qualifying over three days, starting Thursday at 9 a.m. Eastern, to determine the 63 bowlers who will join O'Keefe in match play.
The match-play bracket will feature three-game matches with total pinfall determining who advances. The five players who make their way through the bracket will advance to the stepladder finals and have the chance to take home the top prize of $20,000.