Season Preview: Rookies to Watch

Season Preview: Rookies to Watch

ARLINGTON, Texas – The rookie class of the relaunched Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour in 2015 should hold a special place in the heart of every PWBA Tour fan, young and old.

Though many of the athletes with rookie status in 2015 already had earned recognition as some of the top bowlers in the sport, seeing the talent and determination of players like Shannon Pluhowsky, Missy Parkin, Danielle McEwan and eventual 2015 PWBA Rookie of the Year Stefanie Johnson, dictated the need to provide them a tour to call their own – so they could continue to inspire young bowlers across the globe.

The young players expected to be part of the rookie class in 2020 had the opportunity to grow up watching and learning from the now-stars of the PWBA Tour, and the inspiration for many of them to advance and find success on the professional level was apparent as we watched them compete during college.

The 2020 PWBA Tour season, and incoming group of young talent was going to be something special … before … you know … 2020 happened.

In addition to having to wait to take on their professional aspirations onto the lanes, these athletes also had their collegiate careers prematurely come to an end. It was sad and it sucked and there’s really no other way to say it.

The 2021 PWBA Tour season is on the horizon, however, and we should be excited to watch these incoming rookies compete with the best in the world. It’s an incredibly talented group of players who have compiled accolades and gold medals around the world. It’s now also a group of competitors who have persevered and continued to work through a pandemic to realize their dreams.

It will be hard to argue against the 2015 class ranking as the greatest rookie class of all time, but this upcoming group has the potential to make some noise. A couple of years from now, we may be counting the number of PWBA Tour titles these players have put together and remembering their journey to the tour.

Here’s a couple of players to keep an eye out for while watching the 2021 season on BowlTV.com (subscribe today by clicking here). The first group of players listed are scheduled to compete at the PWBA Kickoff Classic Series, while the second group includes players who may compete later in the season.

IN THE FIELD – PWBA KICKOFF CLASSIC SERIES

MARIA BULANOVA
Bulanova quickly made a name for herself in the United States as a standout freshman at Vanderbilt in 2017. She was named the National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) Rookie of the Year for Division I and earned the first of three NTCA first-team All-America honors (2019 and 2020).

She was no stranger to international success at that point, however. Bulanova, who originally hails from Moscow, already had captured multiple medals at the European Youth Championships and posted an impressive fourth-place finish for Russia at the 2014 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup.

That experience showed as she quickly took over the anchor position at Vanderbilt as a freshman, and she helped the Commodores claim the NCAA Bowling Championship in 2018.

Bulanova was named the NTCA Player of the Year for Division I as a junior in 2019, and she was awarded the 2019 Female Amateur Athlete of the Year award by the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.  

ESTEFANIA COBO
Cobo is the only player on this list who didn’t finish her collegiate bowling career in 2020. She wrapped up her final season at Wichita State in 2019.

She captured a bronze medal in trios for Puerto Rico at the 2017 Pan American Bowling Confederation (PABCON) Youth Championships and has been consistently delivering in major events since 2018.

Cobo put together a run at the 2018 USBC Queens, winning her first two matches on her way to finishing tied for 17th place (averaging more than 229 in match play). She followed that performance by finishing tied for ninth at the 2018 Junior Gold Championships.

In 2019, Cobo again advanced to the double-elimination bracket at the Queens (finished tied for 49th) and earned a spot in match play at the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing the 56-game marathon in 19th place.

She also collected four gold medals for Puerto Rico at the 2019 Campeonato Iberoamericano.

CAITLYN JOHNSON
Johnson has found continued success at each level as she’s progressed toward the PWBA Tour, and she let everybody know she means business with her performance at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.

Johnson entered the final round of match play in sixth place and one spot off the TV show, before some struggles in the last block pushed her to 12th place.

Just prior to her run in Plano, Texas, that year, Johnson helped Webber International to a runner-up finish at the Intercollegiate Team Championships as a freshman and finished second in the 20-and-under division at the Junior Gold Championships.

Johnson’s time at Webber included being named a National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association (NCBCA) first-team All-American as a sophomore, junior and senior. She earned the top honor of Most Valuable Player in the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 seasons.

Johnson also has two years of Junior Team USA experience under her belt (2018-2019), which included gold-medal performances at the 2018 World Bowling Youth Championships (team) and 2019 PABCON Youth Championships (trios and team).

Learn more about Johnson and her journey by watching her appearance on The PWBA Podcast.

ALEXIS NEUER
Neuer concluded her collegiate career at Delaware State in 2020 by being named an NTCA first-team All-American.

She also earned a spot on the NTCA honorable mention All-America squad in 2018 for the Hornets and has proven she has what it takes to compete at each level on her way to the tour.

She’s had strong finishes at the Junior Gold Championships, including a fifth-place finish in 2017, and earned a spot on Junior Team USA in 2018.

Neuer just missed match play at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, and she will have a great support system to lean on during the season.

Her father, Andy, is a Professional Bowlers Association Tour champion, and her younger brother, Anthony, has found success as a fellow member of Junior Team USA and is a PBA regional champion.

ABBY RAGSDALE
Ragsdale kicked off her collegiate career with NCBCA Rookie of the Year honors for St. Francis-Illinois during the 2016-2017 season.

In 2018, she shined at the Junior Gold Championships, earning a spot in the stepladder finals, before leaving one of the most cruel 8 pins in tournament history (watch it here … bowling isn’t fair sometimes), to finish in third place.

She used the momentum from that performance to put together a phenomenal junior year for St. Francis-Illinois and was named an NCBCA first-team All-American and Most Valuable Player.

Ragsdale finished her collegiate career for the Fighting Saints by earning her second consecutive honor as an NCBCA first-team All-American in 2020.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

TAYLOR BAILEY
Bailey emerged as an up-and-coming star during McKendree’s incredible run to both the NCAA Bowling Championship and Intercollegiate Team Championships in 2017.

As a freshman on Shannon O’Keefe’s squad that year, Bailey performed like a seasoned veteran in big moments during the postseason. She continued to improve each year, earning third-team (2018), second-team (2019) and first-team (2020) All-America nominations from the NTCA.

She earned a spot on Junior Team USA in 2018 and helped the program earn a gold medal in team competition at the 2018 World Bowling Youth Championships. Bailey also collected a silver medal in doubles at that event.

In recent months, Bailey has had the opportunity to train alongside O’Keefe, the reigning PWBA Player of the Year, in preparation for the next step in her bowling career.

BREANNA CLEMMER
Clemmer first arrived on the national scene in 2012 by winning the 15-and-under division at the Junior Gold Championships. In 2014, she won the 20-and-under title and finished as the runner-up the following year.

The Junior Gold victory in 2014 also led Clemmer to her first stop on Junior Team USA. She earned a spot on the team for five consecutive years before aging out of the program in 2018. During that time, she collected 18 medals in international competition, including a team gold medal at the 2018 World Bowling Youth Championships.

Clemmer joined Bailey at McKendree in 2017, and the accolades quickly began to accumulate under the watchful eye of O’Keefe. She was named the NTCA Player of the Year for Division II/III student-athletes in each of her four years with the Bearcats, won a pair of team titles in 2017 and captured the 2019 Intercollegiate Singles Championships.

Clemmer also joined the adult squad for Team USA in 2019 after winning the U.S. Amateur title at Team USA Trials. She successfully defended that title in 2020.

Want to learn a little more about Clemmer? Check out her appearance on The PWBA Podcast.

RAQUEL OROZCO
Orozco saved her best for last during her collegiate career at Nebraska. In 2020, she was named the NTCA Player of the Year for Division I and recognized as the Nebraska Female Athlete of the Year.

Fans and fellow student-athletes saw the steady progression in her game as a Cornhusker. She was named an NTCA first-team All-American for the first time as a sophomore in 2018, and she earned that distinction again in 2019 and 2020.

She’s also found success on the international stage. Orozco has captured multiple medals for Mexico’s junior team, highlighted by a win in doubles at the 2018 World Bowling Youth Championships.

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