Kovalova rebounds at PWBA Pepsi Classic, leads field into match play Aaron Smith October 27, 2021 RENO, Nev. - After a subpar performance Monday at the Professional Women's Bowling Association Reno Classic, Ukraine's Dasha Kovalova wanted to return to the National Bowling Stadium with a clear mind and process in place for the PWBA Pepsi Classic.The four-time PWBA Tour champion responded with a pair of consistent six-game blocks Wednesday, averaging 239 to lead the top 12 into match play at the second event of the PWBA Fall Classic Series with a 2,868 total.The top performers from Wednesday's qualifying rounds will return to the NBS on Thursday, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern, for round-robin match play.After two six-game rounds of match play, the top four players, based on total pinfall and bonus pins for each win, will advance to the finals of the Pepsi Classic. The finals will take place live on BowlTV on Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The winner will earn $10,000.Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, finished qualifying in second place with a 2,757 total. The two-time titlist was the top seed for the stepladder finals of the Reno Classic on Tuesday and finished as the runner-up to Stephanie Zavala of Downey, California, 207-194.Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, and Colombia's Maria José Rodriguez finished tied for third Wednesday with 2,736, and Liz Johnson of Niagara Falls, New York, rounded out the top five with 2,720.Mexico's Sandra Gongora, who was Wednesday's opening-round leader, managed to hold on for the final spot into match play. Gongora finished with a 2,669 total, a 222.42 average.Kovalova entered the Fall Classic Series at the top of the season-long points list that will determine the 2021 PWBA Player of the Year. Her 37th-place finish at the Reno Classic dropped her to third, however, putting both player-of-the-year honors and a trip to the season-ending PWBA Tour Championship in jeopardy.The Fall Classic Series features the final three events of the 2021 PWBA Tour season - the Reno Classic, Pepsi Classic and Tour Championship.With an open day to reflect on her initial performance, Kovalova worked through several emotions to get where she needed to be for Wednesday's battle with the event's 43-foot lane condition.The 26-year-old right-hander posted sets of 1,432 and 1,436 to build a 111-pin lead on the field."I cried, because I was sad," said Kovalova, a two-time champion this season. "I was afraid I wasn't going to make the top 24 (for the Tour Championship). I made my peace with it and decided to give it the old college try."I think it was about sticking to my process and not thinking too much about the other stuff. I did put a lot of pressure on myself with (PWBA) Player of the Year. I thought about it non-stop until I came here, and I continued to think about it once I got here. Once I realized it potentially got away from me, and the Tour Championship potentially got away from me, I decided to clear my head and focus on my stuff. Today reminded me that I can bowl." Kovalova's performance Wednesday did secure her spot at the Tour Championship. The top 24 athletes based on their combined qualifying totals for the Reno Classic and Pepsi Classic (24 games) determined the advancers to the season-ending major championship.Kovalova finished qualifying for the Tour Championship in eighth place with a 5,262 total.Coté finished as the top qualifier for the Tour Championship by 147 pins, finishing with a 5,523 total (230.13 average).Stefanie Johnson was second with 5,376, while England's Verity Crawley (5,365), Zavala (5,334) and Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey (5,298), also placed in the top five.Lindsay Boomershine of Perry, Utah, and Malaysia's Shalin Zulkifli finished tied for 23rd to earn the final spots in the Tour Championship, posting 5,114 totals (213.08 average).Pinfall will drop at the beginning of the Tour Championship, with all advancers bowling three eight-game blocks of round-robin match play Friday and Saturday. The top five competitors, based on total pinfall and bonus pins for each victory, will advance to Sunday's stepladder finals.The finals of the Tour Championship will be broadcast Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network, with the winner earning a $50,000 top prize.In addition to the win Tuesday at the Reno Classic, Zavala officially claimed another honor Wednesday by securing PWBA Rookie of the Year honors for the 2021 season.The 25-year-old right-hander has captured three titles this season and solidified her position among first-year players on the season-long points list, which determines the award winner.The 2021 PWBA Player of the Year also will be determined during the Fall Classic Series this week. Crawley entered the Pepsi Classic as the overall leader and qualified for match play Wednesday, finishing in eighth place with a 2,697 total.Two-time reigning PWBA Player of the Year Shannon O'Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, was second entering competition Wednesday but missed the cut to match play, finishing in 16th place with a 2,621 total.The next five players in the player-of-the-year race (Kovalova, Coté, Liz Johnson, Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, and Missy Parkin of Laguna Hills, California) each advanced to match play at the Pepsi Classic.