ZAVJALOVA LOOKS TO RETURN TO WINNING WAYS AT 2022 PWBA ST. PETERSBURG-CLEARWATER OPEN

SEMINOLE, Fla. – For the first time since 2018, the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour returns to Seminole Lanes for the 2022 PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open.

The fourth event of the season runs from June 2-5, with the official practice session taking place Thursday, along with a Bowl with the Pros event. A total of 94 athletes will kick off competition Friday with two six-game qualifying rounds.

Athletes advancing to the Cashers’ Round will bowl an additional six-game block Saturday to determine the top 12 players. A final six-game round will determine the five players for the stepladder finals, based on total pinfall for 24 games.

The finals of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern, with the winner earning $20,000 live on CBS Sports Network.

All qualifying rounds leading up to the CBS Sports Network show will be broadcast live at BowlTV.com.

The last player to win at Seminole Lanes was Latvia’s Diana Zavjalova, who climbed the stepladder as the fifth seed to win her fourth career title in 2018.

It was a great day for Zavjalova, who had just celebrated her 27th birthday a few days prior, and she also shared the stage with her two friends, England’s Verity Crawley and Poland’s Daria Pajak. She opened with a 185-168 victory over Crawley, before downing Jordan Richard of Maumee, Ohio, 226-172, and Liz Kuhlkin of Schenectady, New York, 225-157. She met Pajak in the title match and claimed the victory with a 201-158 win.

Unbeknownst to her, and certainly not for a lack of trying, that victory was the last time Zavjalova hoisted a trophy. She’s made four championship-round appearances since her last victory, one in 2019 and three in 2021. In fact, she was the only player to advance to the finals of all three majors in 2021, which included the United States Bowling Congress Queens, U.S. Women’s Open and PWBA Tour Championship.

She keeps her last win at the forefront and often refers back to that day in August of 2018 as a reminder of what she is capable of on the lanes.

“That was the last time I won,” said Zavjalova, who helped Webber International win the 2012 Intercollegiate Team Championships. “So, a lot of times when I have struggled during the last couple of years, I’ve tried to remember the feeling of 2018 when I was on the show. It’s just a lot of good memories. I try to keep it in my head all the time and hopefully it can help me perform better.”

While the 30-year-old right-hander is often tweaking something in her physical game, it was her mental game she was most proud of during her last victory. She’s seen a significant change in that area and has been working to get her mental game back to where she feels it should be.

The disconnect can be traced directly back to 2020, which is a year many would like to forget. Count Zavjalova among them as she dealt with the isolation measures from the COVID-19 pandemic, the cancellation of the PWBA Tour and most importantly, the passing of her grandmother, Lidia More, which was unrelated to COVID.

“Back then my mental game was really good,” Zavjalova said. “But, since 2020 with COVID, and my grandma’s passing, a lot of things have happened. I’ve had depression and have been working with psychologists. The main difference is my mental game. I’ve been working really hard on it lately, and I feel like I’m getting closer to where I was. I’m still not there yet, but it’s slowly getting closer.”

To make matters worse, neither Zavjalova nor her family members could visit her grandmother due to the lockdown protocols in both the United States and Latvia. Zavjalova could not even travel to pay her respects at her grandmother’s funeral.

“It was very tough for the whole family,” Zavjalova said. “It was right as the lockdown happened, so nobody could go and see her even though the family was in Latvia. I was stuck in the U.S. and couldn’t go to the funeral. It was an awful time.”

Zavjalova has worked through the tough times with some help from her fiancé, EJ Nenichka, and her surrounding support system. He’s been a positive influence on her personally and professionally, especially at a time where she considered stepping away from the game.

“I met my now fiancé at a very, very difficult time in my life, and I’m super grateful to him for being by my side,” Zavjalova said. “Without him, I don’t know if I would be here. I considered going back home, and it was a very, very tough time. So, I would say EJ was the key to me getting back to somewhat normal. He’s been my rock and my light.”

As for the 2022 season, Zavjalova has cashed in the first three events of the season, although she suffered an injury to her right ring finger (on her bowling hand) after dropping a ball on it with 15 minutes left in the official practice session last week at the Twin Cities Open. As they say in Latvia, Zavjalova “bit her teeth” and grinded through the event like a warrior despite the pain and wondering how she was going to hold on to the ball in some cases. She finished 14th.

She’s looking forward to returning to Seminole Lanes this week with a better outlook for the rest of the 2022 season.

“So far, this season has been OK,” Zavjalova said. “I feel last year was worse because it was just a big roller coaster. I missed the cut in three straight events but made the TV show at all three majors. But so far, I’m three for three in making the cut. I’m a little disappointed with the Queens event, because I feel I could’ve done better. I finished (tied for) 13th, which is still OK. But, we still have a few events left, and I’m looking forward to Florida this week and the U.S. Women’s Open. Hopefully it’s going to go up from here.”

With the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open being the only stop in the state of Florida on the 2022 schedule, 33 players with Florida ties will gather at Seminole Lanes this week for a shot at the title.

Zavjalova, Crawley and Pajak were all national champions at Webber International, but Crawley and Pajak were teammates when the program won the 2016 Intercollegiate Team Championships.

Elise Bolton of Merritt Island is a PWBA Regional champion (Cleveland, 2019), a five-time Junior Team USA member and national champion at Nebraska (2013). Taylor Bulthuis of New Port Richey is a PWBA Regional champion (Sarasota, 2020) and along with Crawley and Pajak, helped Webber to a national championship in 2016. Ashly Galante of Palm Harbor is a former Team USA member and two-time national champion at Pikeville (2008) and Webber International (2010). She is coming off an 18th-place finish last week at the Twin Cities Open.

Other notable names include Sophia Bastian of Winter Park, Amanda Flood of Brandon, Christina Hardee of Mount Dora, Melissa Ricardi of St. Petersburg and Brooke Roberts of Port Orange.

The 2022 season features 12 events, including three majors, seven of which will conclude on CBS Sports Network, and an overall prize fund of approximately $1.4 million, which represents the largest average per event since the tour’s relaunch in 2015.

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