LAS VEGAS – Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio, is just 39 years old, which means she has been on Team USA for more than half her life.
Her style is simple and timeless, and there should be no doubt about her status as one of the sport’s all-time best competitors – on either side of the lane.
Sure, there have been a few less ticks in the win column in recent years, but anyone with questions about her abilities should check out the standings at the 2022 United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials, where she is one decent day away from claiming a Team USA jacket for the 22nd time in her career.
Through four days and four oil patterns at the Gold Coast Bowling Center, the left-hander tops the women’s overall standings with 19 ranking points, following daily finishes of third, tied for second, tied for second and 12th.
She is looking to win the USBC Team USA Trials for the third time since its introduction in 2008, to go along with wins at the U.S. National Amateur Bowling Championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
The events are one in the same, but there was a rebranding when professionals first became eligible for Team USA. Pluhowsky has been a tournament staple for the entire 21st century, and she wouldn’t miss it.
There is no complacency from following the same routine for more than two decades, however, and anyone wondering if she has lost any of her drive should listen to her talk about the Team USA program and her teammates and coaches.
Speaking of driving, about a dozen players in the 125-competitor women’s field have only just reached the age to legally do so in the United States (16), and Pluhowsky actually has been part of the program and competing across globe for longer than much of the field has existed on it.
The average age for the women this year is just shy of 22, but the roster includes a balance of experience and young talent.
“Team USA has been a huge part of my life, and the Team Trials is something I look forward to every year,” said Pluhowsky, who won the event in 2011 and 2015. “The field here continues to get so much better, and that means we have to stay on top of our games. The (Professional Women’s Bowling Association) Tour helps that, and it’s just something I really want. Team USA is something special, and I’m not ready to not be a part of it.”
Pluhowsky is followed in the overall standings by four of her latest Team USA teammates – Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois (31), Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois (60), Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona (62), and Lauren Pate of Manchester, Missouri (73).
To guarantee herself another year on the team, Pluhowsky will have to finish better than 44th on Friday’s 36-foot oil pattern. She has been on the team each year since 2001, and she was a member of Junior Team USA from 2000-2003, thanks in part to wins at the Junior Gold Championships in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
On the men’s side at the 2022 Team USA Trials, former Team USA member Darren Tang of Las Vegas moved into the overall lead with 56 ranking points. He entered the day in second place, but an 18th-place finish Thursday helped him into the top spot.
“I’m just going with the flow and not putting too many expectations on myself, because that adds unnecessary pressure,” said Tang, a Team USA member in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve bowled really well over the first three days of this tournament in the past, but then I started to squeeze it a little bit around Day 4, which probably is a result of that pressure. I’m going in with the same mindset I had when I won my first (Professional Bowlers Association) Tour title this year. I’m going to enjoy the moment, and whatever happens, happens.”
Kyle Troup of Taylorsville, North Carolina, the 2018 Team Trials champion, used a hot start and third-place finish Thursday to help him climb from fourth place into second. He now has 68 points.
The 30-year-old two-hander opened the day on the 45-foot oil pattern with games of 233, 276 and 298 for an 807 set.
Trent Mitchell of Chicago now is third overall with 69 points, Nick Pate of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, is fourth with 74 and AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, is fifth with 82.
Jake Peters of Henderson, Nevada, again was the top performer for the men. He also led the tournament’s opening round on Monday.
Peters averaged 246 on the way to a 1,476 total and was followed by Perry Crowell IV of St. Clair Shores, Michigan (1,457), Troup (1,443), defending Team Trials champion Matthew Russo of Ballwin, Missouri (1,418), and Pate (1,409).
The men’s field includes 161 players.
Lauren Pate, Nick’s sister and Russo’s fiancee, set the pace for the women with a 1,412 total and was followed by Maryssa Carey of Hobart, Indiana (1,383), Brooklyn Buchanan of Snohomish, Washington (1,343), Saralyne Nassberg of Lodi, California (1,334), and Danielle Jedlicki of Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1,325).
Prior to Thursday’s six games, Pluhowsky knew the longer pattern might be the biggest challenge of the week, and her instincts were correct. She started the day with games of 204, 244 and 234 but faltered in the second half of the day with 183, 192 and 196 for a 1,253 total.
Securing a low point total through the first three days was important, and she said the keys to her early success were matching up well, having good crosses and minimizing open frames.
Along with proving she’s still one of the best in the world, Pluhowsky also is thinking about the future of the sport and wants to be a good role model for the young competitors.
“I’m just trying to have fun and enjoy the experience of bowling with a lot of players we don’t compete with and against on a regular basis,” Pluhowsky said. “I’m also proud to be able to give the younger players something to look up to and show them this is something you can do for a long time, and it’s not a one-and-done thing if you put your mind to it.”
Pluhowsky’s mindset is a bit different these days because she’s at a different place in life.
She’s recently back from a coaching stint with her alma mater, the University of Nebraska, and now is a married woman. Bowling continues to be a major part of life with her wife, Carrie, daughter, Autumn, and stepson, Christopher.
They do a lot of bowling together as a family, and Pluhowsky just sees the sport from a different perspective now.
She’s more relaxed on the lanes, and that translated to a memorable finish to the 2021 PWBA Tour season.
She finished third at the U.S. Women’s Open and then won the season-ending PWBA Tour Championship for her second major title and first win since the return of the PWBA Tour in 2015. She won the USBC Queens in 2006.
“Winning always changes everyone’s perspective, and I was close a lot, but just never got over the hump,” Pluhowsky said. “I think finally getting there brought back the competitiveness. The kids help that, too. We bowl a lot, and they’re competitive, and it’s fun. I definitely have a different mindset, and bowling well at the Fall Series and Tour Championship showed me I can still do this.”
The action at Gold Coast will conclude Friday with the final rounds of competition, stepladder finals of the 2022 U.S. Amateur Championships and the introduction of Team USA and Junior Team USA 2022.
The men will be back on the lanes at 11 a.m. Eastern, where they’ll be the first to face the day’s 36-foot oil pattern. The women will bowl their six games at 6 p.m. EST. The five conditions this week have ranged from 36-45 feet, with different volumes of oil for the women and men.
BowlTV is providing wire-to-wire coverage of the events, including the announcement and introduction of Team USA and Junior Team USA 2022.
The top four age-eligible men and top four age-eligible women this week, based on ranking points, will earn automatic spots on Team USA, while two additional men and two additional women will be selected by the National Selection Committee from the pool of players that competed during the week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.
Bowlers now must be at least 18 years old as of the end of the 2022 Team USA Trials to be eligible for the adult version of Team USA.
The National Selection Committee also will select additional men and women for the team based on submitted resumes. Those applicants must have been Team USA or Junior Team USA members within the last 10 years or among the top 25 in earnings during the 2021 PBA Tour season or top 25 in points during the 2021 PWBA Tour season.
After the final qualifying round at the Team Trials, the top three amateur men and top three amateur women will advance to a stepladder final to determine the U.S. Amateur champions. Both winners will earn spots on Team USA.
If the U.S. Amateur champion already has earned a spot on the team, the spot will be awarded to the next-highest Team USA Trials qualifier based on ranking points.
To be eligible for this year’s U.S. Amateur, a bowler must not hold or have held a professional membership (PBA or PWBA) in 2021. Also, anyone who has won a professional title (regional, national or senior) as a professional is not eligible to compete as an amateur.
For youth competitors, the top four age-eligible boys and top four age-eligible girls, based on ranking points, automatically will earn spots on Junior Team USA 2022. Two additional boys and two additional girls also will be selected by the National Selection Committee based on performances from either the 2022 Team USA Trials or 2021 Junior Gold Championships.
They will join the youth competitors who already earned their spots on Junior Team USA 2022 during the 2021 Junior Gold Championships.