SMYRNA, Tenn. – After several close calls during her first four seasons on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour, England’s Verity Crawley broke through for her first victory Saturday at the PWBA Greater Nashville Open.
The 26-year-old right-hander won three matches in the stepladder at Smyrna Bowling Center on the way to the title and $10,000 top prize, defeating Poland’s Daria Pajak in the final, 245-168.
The championship round was broadcast live on BowlTV.com.
Crawley had recorded four runner-up finishes on tour prior to her win Saturday, including a loss to Pajak, one of her tour roommates, in the championship match of the 2017 PWBA Greater Detroit Open.
“I’ve been working so hard and knocking on the door and been so close to breaking through,” said Crawley, who made her third championship-round appearance of the season. “It’s an amazing feeling to know all the hard work paid off and that I deserve to be here. I used to not have the confidence that I could win, and it’s something I’ve worked on a lot. It’s always special when you can share these moments with friends, and I’m very thankful for their support.”
Crawley averaged 244 in her three wins Saturday, which included victories over Germany’s Birgit Noreiks (246-214) and Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (241-220), before recording the win against Pajak.
She was able to get ahead early in each match, rolling at least five strikes in her first six frames to build the advantage.
In the title tilt, Crawley was ahead by 55 pins after six frames, benefiting from a pair of opens and only one strike from Pajak. She already had locked up the win by the time she stepped up for her final frame.
“I just had really good ball motion and wanted to take advantage of that,” Crawley said. “When you see your ball do the right thing, all you want to do is make the best shots possible and hope it works out in your favor. I was just focused on executing and making good shots. I didn’t want to walk away with wanting to take back any shots. I wanted to be happy with every shot and really stay in the moment.”
Both Crawley and Pajak faced visa issues that kept them out of the United States and prevented them from competing during the first part of the 2021 season, and Crawley has used that experience in changing her mindset while competing.
Prior to Saturday’s victory, Crawley had recorded four top-10 finishes in her first six events this season, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the United States Bowling Congress Queens and PWBA BVL Open.
“My mindset changed when I went back to England in January and was unable to practice for three months,” Crawley said. “When I came back to the U.S., I had three weeks to prepare for the PWBA Tour and had no expectations heading into that first event, but I was genuinely so happy to compete. I love being out here on tour and love bowling, and I haven’t been as stressed about making cuts or anything like that. I haven’t been thinking about those things because I just want to be here and bowl. I will have to head back to England after the Louisville stop because of my visa, so I’m really happy to be able to bring this trophy back to my parents after next week.”
Crawley’s run through the ladder almost did not take place, as she entered the final game of qualifying outside of the top four spots. She was able to jump ahead of Alexis Neuer of Milton, Pennsylvania, with a 207 game and hold off a late charge from Valerie Bercier of Muskegon, Michigan, who rolled 267 in the final game.
Crawley was the No. 4 seed with a 5,131 total, with Bercier (5,121) and Neuer (5,120) finishing in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Pajak, who was looking for her second PWBA Tour title and making her first championship-round appearance of 2021, put together a phenomenal run on this week’s 39-foot condition during the final two rounds of qualifying Saturday to earn the top seed for the stepladder with a 5,166 total.
The 2017 PWBA Rookie of the Year rolled 257 in the final game of the Round of 32 to advance to the final qualifying round in 11th place. She moved from 11th to first in the first five games of the final round and edged O’Keefe by three pins after 24 games to lead qualifying.
O’Keefe, the two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year, was making her second consecutive championship-round appearance, and third overall, after a runner-up finish at last week’s PWBA Albany Open.
The 14-time PWBA Tour titlist finished her semifinal match against Crawley with four consecutive strikes, starting in the eighth frame, followed by a nine-count on her fill ball, to force her to knock over nine pins in the final frame to advance. Crawley struck on her first delivery in the 10th frame to deny O’Keefe the chance for a second title this season.
O’Keefe won the season-opening PWBA Bowlers Journal Classic in January.
Noreiks made her second championship-round appearance of the season Saturday after posting a third-place finish at the PWBA Greater Cleveland Open in May.
She was looking for her second career title but fell behind in the opening match after a 7-10 split in the fourth frame. She followed the open with three consecutive strikes, but spares in the eighth and ninth frames kept Crawley ahead in the match.
The 73-player field in Smyrna bowled 12 games Friday, before the first cut to the top 32 athletes. Advancers bowled an additional six-game block Saturday morning, with the top 12 competing in a final six-game round to determine the four bowlers for the stepladder, based on 24-game pinfall totals.
The PWBA Tour will return to Louisville, Kentucky, next week for the PWBA Louisville Open. The event will be held at Executive Strike and Spare and take place June 17-19. Ukraine’s Dasha Kovalova is the defending champion at the event.