Kovalova leads player-of-the-year race heading into PWBA Fall Classic Series

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RENO, Nev. - The stage is set for an incredible conclusion to the 2021 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour season, with three titles, a major championship and postseason honors being determined during the next week at the PWBA Fall Classic Series.

The Fall Classic Series, which will feature the final three events of the 2021 season, will get underway Sunday at the National Bowling Stadium with the official practice session for the PWBA Reno Classic (Oct. 25-26), PWBA Pepsi Classic (Oct. 27-28) and PWBA Tour Championship (Oct. 29-31), the third major of the year.

The finals of the PWBA Tour Championship will be broadcast live Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network, with the winner taking home a $50,000 top prize.

All qualifying and match-play rounds, including the stepladder finals of the Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic, will be broadcast on BowlTV.com. The winner of each event will earn $10,000.

The battle for PWBA Player of the Year ultimately may come down to the title match during the Tour Championship, with six players within 13,400 points of Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova.

Kovalova enters the Fall Classic Series at the top of the season-long points list (110,380), which determines PWBA Player of the Year.

Two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, is second with 108,145 points, and England's Verity Crawley is third with 106,100.

Three-time PWBA Player of the Year Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls, New York, is in the mix for the award once again with 100,710 points, while Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (100,370), Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York (97,495), and Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California (97,012.5), all look to win the award for the first time.

Kovalova has ascended to the top of the points list this season on the strength of two wins and six championship-round appearances.

The 26-year-old right-hander also has experienced some struggles during the 2021 season, which started in January and already has featured 17 events.

"This season has definitely been eye-opening for me in regard to my mental stability," said Kovalova, who won the PWBA Twin Cities Open and PWBA Louisville Open this season. "I've experienced some really big dips in my self-confidence, and I struggled more with ball choices than I did last season. But, we also saw a bigger variety of patterns. They definitely were tough for some tournaments, and I think I really like that.

"It's a very cool thought (to be leading for PWBA Player of the Year), but I'm trying not to think about it because it freaks me out. I'm just going to stick to my process and make sure all the things I've been working on stay the same. I'm just going to do my own thing and try my best, because that's all I can do."

Kovalova has stayed busy on the lanes since the U.S. Women's Open in August, devoting much of her time to sharpening her skills at Brunswick's headquarters in Michigan.

After successfully defending her title at the Louisville Open in June, Kovalova adjusted her fit during a break in the schedule and saw the momentum continue at the PWBA Summer Classic Series at the beginning of August. She promptly earned the top seed at her next event and finished as the runner-up to Germany's Birgit Noreiks at the PWBA Go Bowling Classic.

During this most recent break, she has been working on ways to create better motion through the pins and become more familiar with her arsenal.

"I've been living in the bowling alley the past two months," said Kovalova, a four-time PWBA Tour champion. "I think the people who stay at Brunswick after hours will start telling urban legends about that one girl who's always there. I've been practicing a lot. I've been working on staying behind the ball more, because my spin-y release sometimes affects my carry. When I have my wrist behind the ball, it's better."

The format for the Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic will feature two six-game blocks of qualifying, with the top 12 athletes advancing to round-robin match play. Match play also will consist of two six-game rounds, with the top four players, based on total pinfall and bonus pins, advancing to the stepladder finals.

The top 24 players after 24 games of qualifying from the Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic will qualify for the Tour Championship. Pinfall will drop at the start of the Tour Championship, and all competitors will bowl 24 games of round-robin match play. The top five will advance to the finals, based on total pinfall and bonus pins.

Kovalova has been one of the top performers during the season's two previous Classic Series events, making three championship-round appearances in six tournaments.

"I think what I've liked about these events is that it's a marathon," Kovalova said. "I tend to be less anxious, because I know that there's a lot of games, and one bad one won't necessarily affect it in a crucial way. I know I can survive the longer events because I've been working on my stamina. I like the longevity of the format, and the previous events have showed me the range of patterns we could have, too."

In the race for PWBA Rookie of the Year, Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California, enters the Fall Classic Series with a 15,050-point lead over Breanna Clemmer of Clover, South Carolina.

Zavala won two of her first five events as a PWBA member, recording wins at the PWBA Greater Cleveland Open and PWBA BVL Open. She increased her lead heading into the Fall Classic Series after making her fourth championship-round appearance of the year at the U.S. Women's Open, finishing in fourth place.

Reno and the NBS are hosting the PWBA for the second time during the 2021 season. The United States Bowling Congress Queens was contested at the 78-lane venue in May, with Bond winning her first major and second career title over Parkin in the title match, 238-154.