PWBA shows global reach of bowling

Aaron Smith
USBC Communications

Published: November 24, 2015 | Bowl.com

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Bowling is a global sport and the international presence during the 2015 Professional Women’s Bowling Association season could not be ignored.

Competitors from Singapore (Jazreel Tan) and Latvia (Diana Zavjalova) captured titles in the PWBA Tour’s relaunch this summer, while three bowlers from Colombia (Rocio Restrepo, Clara Guerrero and Maria Jose Rodriguez) each advanced to the championship round at least once.

The international talent has become more familiar in recent years as the Professional Bowlers Association started attracting the likes of Mika Koivuniemi (Finland), Jason Belmonte (Australia) and Dom Barrett (England), and the trend could be seen on the women’s side as Zavjalova and Rodriguez claimed the 2013 and 2014 United States Bowling Congress Queens titles, respectively.

Talented international players proving themselves as some of the best in the world is not a new trend. Before the PWBA ceased operations in 2003, Australia’s Carol Gianotti and Cara Honeychurch combined for 24 PWBA titles. Gianotti was the PWBA Player of the Year in 1998, while Honeychurch earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2000.

A trio of players from Japan left their mark at the PWBA majors in the early 1980s, highlighted by Katsuko Sugimoto’s back-to-back victories at the USBC Queens in 1981 and 1982 (Sugimoto also is the last player to successfully defend the title). Kazue Inahashi captured the Queens title (1984), and Shinobu Saitoh added a U.S. Open victory in 1982.

Many of these international players were on their national teams as youth competitors, and made the transition to the United States to join some of the top collegiate bowling programs.

Guerrero, Restrepo, Sandra Gongora (Mexico) and Mariana Ayala (Puerto Rico) spent their collegiate days at Wichita State, each helping the Shockers win the Intercollegiate Team Championships title, while Rodriguez and Anggie Ramirez (Colombia) teamed at Maryland Eastern Shore, helping bring the Hawks both ITC and NCAA crowns. Zavjalova finished her collegiate career at Webber International with a victory at the Intercollegiate Singles Championships in 2014 after helping the Warriors to an ITC victory in 2012.

“Bowling for your country as you grow up allows you the chance to be exposed to tough conditions and great coaching from all around the world,” said Restrepo, the youngest bowler (age 15 in 2003) to win a medal at the World Bowling Women’s Championships. “You are supported by your Olympic committee, and all of those aspects help you mature at a very young age. By the time we moved to the (United) States, we already have been exposed to the highest levels of competition in our sport, and it makes it easier to deal with pressure situations.”

CarolGianotti Gianotti also spent time representing her country before making her way to the United States as an 18-year-old, and she knew the PWBA Tour was her ticket to further her career in the sport.

“When the professionals came to Australia to compete, I spoke to them about the tour and asked whether I was good enough to compete,” said Gianotti, who captured her first professional title at the 1989 Queens. “They said I was, and Wendy Macpherson offered to open up her home to me. From there, I didn’t look back. It was a big move, leaving when I was 18 to travel over to the (United) States and fulfill my dream to compete against the best in the world, but what an experience. They really welcomed me, and it did not take long to fit in and have success.”

Adjusting to a new stop each week and competing in a longer format also proved to offer a different challenge from most international events. Standard PWBA Tour events in 2015 featured 12 games of qualifying and 16 games of round-robin match play, all over two days, to determine which players advanced to the stepladder finals.

The upcoming World Bowling Women’s Championships, set for Dec. 6-13 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, will award medals in singles, doubles, trios, team, all-events and Masters competition and feature more than a dozen PWBA members representing five countries.

“I personally felt that I had the chance to show my versatility and stamina on tour,” said Restrepo, who finished second at the PWBA Minnesota Open. “The longer formats gave me a chance to let my athletic side prevail. It’s different from international competition, since you bowl so many events and squads. It taught me a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and made me a better bowler.”

The PWBA will continue to serve as home to the top domestic and international players in the world in 2016 and beyond, and Gianotti is looking forward to adding her name to that list once again.

“I was fortunate to live my dream as a professional bowler and be successful,” said Gianotti, who owns 16 PWBA titles. “I miss the Tour and competition. I will be coming over for a few stops next year. My knee is healing up really well from replacement, and eight months away has given me the determination to come back and compete against the young ones.”

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