ARLINGTON, Texas - With the 2021 Professional Women’s Bowling Association season less than 50 days away, we’re excited to discuss some of the top storylines heading into the year and break down some of the big questions for the top athletes on tour.
There’s plenty of new things about the season in general, which should stir interest for bowling fans across the globe. The national tour will host 20 events for the first time since 2001, which also means the athletes will be competing for the largest overall prize fund since the relaunch of the PWBA in 2015.
There are three new Classic Series events, which actually come out to nine national tournaments and three regional competitions. Multiplying is great.
Finally, the entire season will be showcased on BowlTV.com, with wire-to-wire coverage of each event (including both majors) being shown on the subscription-based platform.
There’s a special deal from now until the end of the year to pick up a full year of BowlTV for just $49.95 (compared to the regular price of $79.95 for an annual subscription). There’s only so many ways we can say this is a pretty sweet offer (and will continue to try and do so), so don’t miss out.
At the end of the day, though, it’s really about the players.
Today, we’re going to throw around a few thoughts and predictions that may just turn into some of the main storylines for the 2021 season.
WILL SHANNON O’KEEFE CONTINUE TO DOMINATE THE PWBA TOUR?
Shannon O’Keefe’s incredible 2019 season was so great, it ranked ninth on the recent countdown of the top 20 seasons in the history of professional women’s bowling (that history dates back to 1960).
She collected five wins, won her second PWBA Tour Championship for her third career major, led every major statistical category on tour and posted a ridiculous 11-2 record in seven championship-round appearances to claim PWBA Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive year.
For good measure, she also added another gold medal to her Team USA collection by winning doubles at the 2019 Pan American Games with Stefanie Johnson.
It would be difficult to imagine anybody being able to put up those type of numbers in consecutive seasons, especially under the circumstances surrounding 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
But.… it’s Shannon O’Keefe.
The 13-time PWBA Tour titlist admitted in several interviews during the 2019 season that her road to player-of-the-year honors in 2018 left something to be desired. She lost her focus toward the end of the season. She was spending a little too much time keeping an eye on the other players in the hunt for the award. Ultimately, she didn’t compete the way she knew she could.
She said that wasn’t going to happen again, and it didn’t in 2019. A new outlook to each event, coupled with her incredible talent and rigorous conditioning routine, helped her become the first player since 2001 to win five times in a season.
A healthy mix of confidence and intensity gave O’Keefe’s championship-round appearances a certain spark, while she continued to prove time and time again she could make every shot she needed to make.
She continually performed at some of the highest levels ever seen on tour, and O’Keefe has showcased that same combination in 2020, despite limited opportunities.
In August, she finished second after earning the top seed at the Brad and Kyle Women’s Open, which featured many of the top players on the PWBA Tour. She followed that with a superb showing at the PBA League in September, including a clutch strike during a roll-off in the quarterfinals to keep the Phoenix Fury in contention, before eventually collecting a win, against the Silver Lake Atom Splitters.
O’Keefe also is on the roster for the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials to start 2021, giving her one additional opportunity to compete prior to the start of the PWBA season later in the month.
WHO’S THE NEXT DASHA KOVALOVA?
While nobody truly can be as awesome and unique as the breakout star of 2019, Dasha Kovalova’s rise to stardom on the national tour begs the question of who will follow in her footsteps and make the leap to the next level in 2021.
Kovalova collected her first title and major championship at the USBC Queens, and she rolled a perfect game in the title match of the Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open to put herself in the mix for PWBA Player of the Year in 2019.
With expectations now at a different level for Kovalova moving into the 2021 season, it’s time for another player to write the next chapter of her young career – Verity Crawley.
The 26-year-old right-hander from England has found success since joining the tour in 2017, but arguably, it has been bittersweet. Crawley has advanced to the title match four times, but she has yet to claim her first PWBA Tour title.
She has bowled well. She has been in position to win. In three of those four matches, she’s had the opportunity to roll a double in the 10th frame to win, but the pins have not yet cooperated for the former collegiate standout from Webber International.
At the 2018 PWBA Sonoma County Open, Crawley rolled a 266 game in the title match. Shannon O’Keefe had 268.
While luck hasn’t necessarily been on Crawley’s side in these moments, history just might be in the near future.
In taking a glance at the history books, 49 competitors since 1960 have at least four runner-up finishes in professional women’s events, including Crawley. How many of those 49 have won at least one PWBA Tour title? 48.
While that statistic may be disheartening at first, there is a silver lining. Players who continue to put themselves in position to win tend to have the odds even out in the end.
Lisa Wagner, the all-time leader in PWBA Tour victories with 32, started her hall-of-fame career with five runner-up finishes between 1980 and 1982, before collecting her first win in 1983. She went on to add two more titles during the season and was named PWBA Player of the Year for the first time.
Crawley isn’t one to wait and let things happen, though. Her talent and work ethic on the lanes are well known, and she has stayed incredibly busy on the lanes in 2020.
While the pandemic has caused a lot of trouble for bowlers across the United States, there’s been plenty of tournaments available to bowl in Florida, which is where Crawley has been spending a majority of her time.
If you follow her on social media (you really should if you don’t … in fact … here are the links to her fan pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), you can see she has taken advantage of nearly every opportunity to compete.
Those types of reps are important. Whether it’s a local sweeper or tour stop, there’s opportunity to learn and grow from making big shots in a tournament environment.
If Crawley can work her way into a stepladder final or two in 2021, don’t be surprised to see her break the trend she’s faced in her first three seasons.
Looking for more? We'll be rolling out features just like this each week leading up to 2021. Stay tuned here on PWBA.com.