SOUTH GLENS FALLS — Liz Kuhlkin admitted that she was extremely nervous before the first two qualifying rounds of the inaugural PWBA Albany Open Friday at Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center.
The 27-year-old two-time PWBA champion has done some remarkable things already in her bowling career, and nerves rarely played a factor. But she said she rarely competes on tour in front of so many family and friends.
“I was nervous this morning,” said the Schalmont High School and University of Nebraska graduate. “I wasn’t expecting so many people to show up today. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but coming from New York, I usually don’t have many people watching me bowl on tour.”
Kuhlkin said she missed four easy spares in her first game, and it took quite a while for her to settle down in front of her “hometown” crowd. After the first six games of qualifying, she was in 36th place at plus-37. But she rallied in the second qualifying squad with three strong games, finishing 24th at plus-168. She was the only Capital Region product to make the 32-player cut for Saturday’s third round.
The field will roll six more games Saturday morning at 10 a.m., after which the top 12 will advance to the fourth round of qualifying at 2:30 p.m. The top four move on to the stepladder finals at 6 p.m.
Kelly Kulick, the 44-year-old veteran from Union, N.J. who has six PWBA victories, rolled a 300 game in the final game Friday night to take over the qualifying lead at plus-460.
The other Capital Region finishers in the field who failed to make the cut were Janelle Irwin of Schenectady (42nd, minus-8), Jessica Aiezza of Mechanicville (61st, minus-243), Jessica Abel of Broadalbin (62nd, minus-325), Kalynn Carl of Albany (63rd, minus-329) and Catherine Bell of Averill Park (66th, minus-376).
Kuhlkin already has two top-five finishes this season on the PWBA Tour, and she was extremely excited to be bowling less than an hour away from her hometown. The two-time national collegiate champion and former bowler of the year at Nebraska didn’t bowl well on the 36-foot oil pattern in the early going.
“I was too far left with my feet compared to the other girls,” Kuhlkin said. “I moved four boards to the right. Obviously, I found something there.”
Kuhlkin, who still owns the national high-triple record for females (890) and owns numerous Team USA medals, said she might try a urethane ball in qualifying Saturday.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I usually don’t like to use urethane, but I’ve got to try something. I need to get going early so I have a chance to make up some ground.”
Meanwhile, Kulick, who gained national attention by becoming the first woman to win the Tournament of Champions against the men on the PBA Tour, said she has become a fan of shorter oil conditions after working with her Team USA coach a few years ago.
“It was hard for me at first because of the way I normally throw the ball, but I’ve learned some different hand positions,” she said. “Now, I kind of like the short-oil patterns.”
STRONG FINISH FOR KULICK
Kulick, who was the featured speaker at the Schenectady USBC Hall of Fame & Awards banquet a few years ago, said she really wanted to complete her perfect game to round out the qualifying round.
“I really wanted to finish it off,” she said. “I think this is the third time this season I’ve had the first 10 or 11 strikes, and I wanted to finally get one,” she said. “I wanted to give the audience here this game.
“There will be some bad breaks along the way. Now that I know what the balls are and what the progression is, I’m going to stay with what works for me.”
Kulick is an elder statesman on the PWBA Tour, and she wears that label with pride.
“It keeps me young,” she said. “We’ve all got to work out and stay in shape out here. I think I’m the second-oldest out here behind Liz Johnson, but I know I can still bowl.”
The only other Capital Region bowler who was in position to make the cut was Irwin, who was in 22nd place at plus-75 after the first six games.
“I’ve bowled out here in five or six events over the last four year,” said Irwin, whose day job is as a nurse. “I think I got a little fatigued in the second qualifying squad. The lanes played differently for me in the afternoon. I had a better look the first round. For me the lanes didn’t have as much hold for my ball and I wasn’t carrying as much. My parents were here and some friends from Town & Country. I do enjoy have people watch me bowl.”
Fourteen-time champion Shannon O’Keefe from Shiloh, Illinois, is second in qualifying with a plus-427, followed by five-time winner Danielle McEwan of Stony Point at plus-422. Morning qualifying leader Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, is fourth at plus-361, and 25-time titlist Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls is fifth at plus-337.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].
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