This 81st edition of Bowlers Journal International’s All-American Teams, one of the most anticipated annual measures of success in competitive bowling, exemplifies familiar dilemmas that forced the editors to make some brutally difficult decisions.
Specifically, this team arose from intense statistical competition among the pool of contenders for the 2018-19 squad that forced the editors to exclude several players who won national pro titles during the period of consideration, which, once again, comprised the timeframe of June 16 of the prior year to June 15 of this year.
While winning remains the paramount consideration any year candidates for the BJI All-American Teams are evaluated, this year’s crop of contenders pitted players who won a title but did little else during the period of consideration against those who won nothing but accumulated a record of staggering consistency that could not go ignored.
This year’s meticulous review of player stats, which compelled the editors to question their selections, then question them a second, third and fourth time to ensure absolute confidence in their choices, cast a spotlight on PWBA Tour star Danielle McEwan in particular. Her record perfectly underscores a classic dilemma the editors face in All-American deliberations each year.
Unlike fellow PWBA standouts such as Diana Zavjalova, Shayna Ng or Sandra Andersson, McEwan won nothing during the period of consideration for the 2018-19 BJI All-American rosters. Yet unlike those other three PWBA champions, each of whom won one title during the period of consideration, McEwan qualified for many more championship rounds. The Team USA veteran advanced to the TV finals in three separate majors — finishing fourth in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, third in the 2018 PWBA Players Championship, and third in the 2018 PWBA Tour Championship.
Additionally, she also made the championship finals of another three regular tour events, including both the PWBA Lincoln Open and Tucson Open in 2019 and, last year, the Striking Against Breast Cancer (SABC) Mixed Doubles, where she partnered with Chris Via for a third-place finish. One testament to that record of consistency over the long term was her runner-up finish in the 2019 World Bowling Tour Women’s Finals, a show a player makes only by compiling an impressive array of accomplishments across numerous events both in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Joining McEwan on the Women’s Second Team are 2019 USBC Queens winner Dasha Kovalova, Josie Barnes, Rocio Restrepo and Diana Zavjalova, who edged out Ng and Andersson for the final Women’s Second Team spot by a hair after compiling a record of consistent performance across a greater number of events than those latter two players.
The Women’s First Team includes Shannon O’Keefe in the role of Captain. Her selection demands little explanation following a PWBA Player of the Year award for a 2018 season in which she bowled the championship finals in five tour stops during the period of consideration, and also added two PWBA titles in 2019 (Twin Cities Open, Tucson Open). Joining O’Keefe are 2018 PWBA Rookie of the Year Jordan Richard, 2018 U.S. Women’s Open champion Liz Kuhlkin, 2018 PWBA Tour Championship winner Maria Jose Rodriguez, and superstar Liz Johnson.
Captaining the Men’s First Team for the second consecutive year is Jason Belmonte. Belmo bagged a treasure chest of trophies during the period of consideration, including two majors — the 2019 PBA Tournament of Champions and the 2019 PBA World Championship — while also winning the 2019 DHC PBA Japan Invitational and scoring championship finals appearances in five other tour stops within the period of consideration.
Joining the superstar two-hander on the Men’s First Team are 2017 Captain, EJ Tackett, as well as 2018 U.S. Open winner Dom Barrett, 2019 USBC Masters winner Jakob Butturff, and 2019 PBA Players Championship winner Anthony Simonsen. Filling out the Men’s Second Team are a pair of two-time titlists in 2019: Dick Allen, who makes the team for the second consecutive year, and Norm Duke, who makes a 12th career appearance as a BJI All-American at age 55.
Inaugural PBA Playoffs champ Kris Prather also makes the Men’s Second Team along with Bill O’Neill and Rhino Page, who presented a dilemma similar to that posed by McEwan’s record. Page won nothing during the period of consideration, while fellow PBA Tour competitors such as Marshall Kent, Stu Williams, Kyle Troup and Sean Rash either won a title or otherwise put together impressive resumes during the period of consideration.
Ultimately, Page’s outstanding 2019 put him over the top, as the veteran southpaw recorded top-five finishes in four PBA Tour events in 2019 alone. He finished fifth in the Hall of Fame Classic, fifth in the Lubbock Sports Open, fifth in the Indianapolis Open, and third in the Cheetah Championship. Also within the period of consideration, Page advanced to the championship round of the 2018 Xtra Frame Kenn-Feld Group Classic, finishing fourth.
And now for a closer look at the competitive resumes of each of our 20 BJI All-Americans for 2018-19 . . .
MEN’S FIRST TEAM
Jason Belmonte (Captain)
This Aussie superstar is back in the Captain’s saddle for the second straight year after an extraordinary 12 months that saw him win two majors — the 2019 PBA Tournament of Champions and the 2019 PBA World Championship — setting two benchmarks along the way. His World Championship win made him the all-time record holder for most majors won in PBA Tour history (11), breaking a tie with Earl Anthony and Pete Weber at 10 apiece, and also moved him into a tie with legend Marshall Holman on the all-time PBA Tour titles list with 22. Belmonte also notched wins this year in the DHC PBA Japan Invitational and the PBA Chameleon Championship while finishing runner-up in both the PBA Players Championship and the PBA Indianapolis Open, third in the PBA Hall of Fame Classic, and fifth in the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman Doubles Championship with Bill O’Neill. Also within the consideration period, he finished runner-up in the Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles with Diandra Asbaty.
This longtime world-beater seemed reinvigorated over the past year which, off the lanes, also happened to have included the additional of a new family member, as he and wife Cassie welcomed son Colby into the Barrett fold last summer. The Englishman made his growing fam proud as he capped a stellar year with his second career major by shaving off a single-pin victory over Jakob Butturff, 207-206, in Wichita to take his eagle trophy back home across the pond. Barrett put himself over the top in BJI All-American Team consideration when he added several more championship-round appearances, including a fourth-place finish at the PBA Oklahoma Open and a fifth-place finish in the DHC PBA Japan Invitational, respectively, in 2019, as well as a fourth-place finish in the 2018 PBA Parkside Lanes Open.
This winner of three titles during the period of consideration (2018 Parkside Lanes Open, 2018 FloBowling Bear Open, 2018 SABC Mixed Doubles with Liz Johnson) was a — pardon the pun — striking absence from last year’s BJI All-American squad after having captained the men’s roster in 2017. It is clear that Tackett has reclaimed his star power, enjoying championship-round appearances in three separate majors during the period of consideration — the U.S. Open in 2018 and, in 2019, the Tournament of Champions and the PBA Players Championship. Tackett also posted a fourth-place finish in the 2018 PBA Tulsa Open and won the 2019 World Bowling Tour Men’s Finals.
This unique lefty makes a return to the BJI All-American fold after winning his first major with a victory in the 2019 USBC Masters and coming within a whiffed single-pin spare of defeating Belmonte for the 2019 PBA World Championship title. Butturff added wins in the PBA Oklahoma Open in 2019 and the Xtra Frame Kenn-Feld Group Classic in 2018, the year he suffered his second consecutive runner-up finish in the U.S. Open after decimating the field all week. Butturff also finished runner-up in two other events in 2019, the PBA Hall of Fame Classic and the DHC PBA Japan Invitational.
This 22-year-old Texas two-hander charged onto the Men’s First Team with win after win during the period of consideration, including his second career major with a victory in the 2019 PBA Players Championship as well as two regular titles in 2018 — the PBA Xtra Frame Gene Carter’s Pro Shop Classic, and the FloBowling Wolf Open. He also finished third in the inaugural PBA Playoffs and runner-up in the 2019 World Bowling Tour Men’s Finals.
WOMEN’S FIRST TEAM
Shannon O’Keefe (Captain)
Arguably the most impressive feat on the relaunched PWBA Tour is that it took O’Keefe fewer than five full seasons to rack up 10 titles. The powerful right-hander notched two of those wins early on in the 2019 season, winning the Twin Cities Open and the Tucson Open. O’Keefe also enjoyed four top-five finishes in 2018 during the period of consideration, including two majors — a fifth-place finish in the U.S. Women’s Open and a third-place showing in the PWBA Tour Championship. In 2018, she also finished runner-up in the 2018 Greater Harrisburg Open, fourth in the SABC Mixed Doubles with Bill O’Neill, and fourth in the Twin Cities Open.
This 2018 PWBA Rookie of the Year wasted no time seizing the moment she debuted on the ladies’ tour last season. She won the Greater Harrisburg Open and scored four other championship-round appearances, finishing fourth in St. Petersburg-Clearwater, third in the Twin Cities, fifth in Columbus and fourth in a major, the PWBA Players Championship. Richard then wasted no time winning her second title, when she won the third tour stop of 2019, the Lincoln Open, proving that 2018 was no fluke.
Once this New York product caught a wave of momentum in 2018, she never let it go. Following several middling seasons that followed her first PWBA Tour win in 2015, Kuhlkin burst back into national prominence with a win in the U.S. Women’s Open. She also enjoyed two other championship-round appearances last season, in St. Petersburg-Clearwater and the Twin Cities. She has extended that momentum into 2019, finishing third in Tucson.
Making the BJI All-American Team for a staggering 16th time in her career, Liz Johnson continued to add to her legacy during the period of consideration with wins in the PWBA Columbus Open and, with partner EJ Tackett, the SABC Mixed Doubles. In 2019, she finished third in the Lincoln Open and won the World Bowling Tour Women’s Finals.
Maria Jose Rodriguez
This Columbian standout added a second career major to her resume last season when she defeated Kelly Kulick to win the PWBA Tour Championship. She previously had won her first major in the 2014 USBC Queens. She has enjoyed a strong 2019 campaign that has seen her finish fourth in the Twin Cities and runner-up in Tucson.
MEN’S SECOND TEAM
After appearing on last year’s BJI All-American Team following a seven-year hiatus — he made his BJI All-American debut in 2011 — Dick Allen is back for the second straight year after winning two titles in 2019, including his unforgettably dramatic win over Sean Rash in the Lubbock Sports Open and, later, the PBA Cheetah Championship.
Norm Duke had not won a singles title on the PBA Tour since 2011 when he headed to the familiar environs of Woodland Bowl and bagged the first of his back-to-back titles in 2019. After winning there, he staged an encore the following week in the Jonesboro Open, where he converted a 4-9 split en route to defeating Belmonte for his 41st PBA Tour title at age 54.
This Wichita State product’s transformation from unknown to unstoppable began in earnest when he made every show at the 2018 PBA Fall Swing on FloBowling, then followed up that performance by advancing to the TV finals of the U.S. Open, where he finished third. He punched through for his first PBA Tour title with his victory in the 2019 PBA Chameleon Championship, then bagged the biggest prize the PBA has awarded since 2011 when he won the $100,000 top prize in the inaugural PBA Playoffs.
After staging an emotional victory in the PBA Hall of Fame Classic in January following the death of his mother months earlier, O’Neill went on to compile an impressive 2019 campaign during which he finished runner-up in the inaugural PBA Playoffs — a $60,000 payday — third in the PBA Scorpion Championship, fourth in the PBA World Championship, and fifth in the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman Doubles Championship with partner Belmonte. Also during the period of consideration, O’Neill put in a fourth-place showing in the Parkside Lanes Open and finished fourth in the SABC Mixed Doubles with O’Keefe.
For a player who has not yet won a title in the 2019 PBA Tour season, Page sure has had an impressive year. The 2017 U.S. Open titlist earned championship-round appearances in the Hall of Fame Classic (fifth), the Lubbock Sports Open (fifth), the Indianapolis Open (fifth) and the Cheetah Championship (third). Also during the period of consideration, Page finished fourth in the 2018 Xtra Frame Kenn-Feld Group Classic.
WOMEN’S SECOND TEAM
She did not win anything during the period of consideration, but she did just about everything else. McEwan made the show at three separate majors during the period of consideration, finishing fourth in the U.S. Women’s Open, third in the Players Championship, and third in the Tour Championship, all in 2018. Also during the period of consideration, McEwan made shows in Lincoln and Tucson in 2019, finishing fourth in both. Add a runner-up finish in the 2019 World Bowling Tour Women’s Finals and a third-place showing in the 2018 SABC with Chris Via, and you have as complete a resume of accomplishment as one can compile without taking home a title.
This Wichita State standout had expressed doubts that she belonged on the PWBA Tour before winning the 2019 USBC Queens, which earned her this BJI All-American Team debut. Any fellow PWBA Tour competitors who doubt she belongs now do so at their own peril.
This assistant coach with the Vanderbilt bowling program continues to be one of the PWBA Tour’s most consistent competitors, having won her third career title in the 2019 Greater Cleveland Open. Also during the period of consideration, Barnes made the show at the Twin Cities Open, finishing fifth.
This sparkplug out of Colombia won her fourth career title with a victory in the 2018 Twin Cities Open and also enjoyed a championship-round appearance in the Columbus Open, where she finished third.
This Latvian transplant continues to prove that she is much more than a really cool hairdo with a personality to match. During the period of consideration, this two-time USBC Queens champ won the 2018 St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open for a fourth career PWBA Tour title.