ARLINGTON, Texas – Maria José Rodriguez is used to a rigorous travel schedule as a full-time player on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour and as an international standout for her home country of Colombia.
The two-time major winner is used to competing for the highest stakes and throwing the high-pressure shots.
The thing Rodriguez wasn’t used to was stepping away from it all, something she had to do this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the 31-year-old right-hander has used the opportunity to recharge and now is awaiting her chance to roll the big shots during the 2020 Professional Bowlers Association League as a member of the Phoenix Fury.
Rodriguez will compete for the Fury alongside fellow PWBA Tour champions Shannon O’Keefe, Liz Johnson, Jordan Richard and Stefanie Johnson, starting Sept. 26 in Centreville, Virginia.
The 2020 PBA League will feature 12 five-player teams made up of the top stars on both the PBA Tour and PWBA Tour. The Fury will be joined by the Miami Waves as the two all-PWBA teams competing at Bowlero Centreville.
To prepare for her PBA League debut, Rodriguez, who resides in Austin, Texas, has been busy traveling around the state and competing at local events. She took her time getting back into the swing of things, however, noting the opportunity to take a step back from the competitive side of bowling for a moment.
“Between the PWBA, PBA events and tournaments for Colombia, everything I competed in was super serious,” Rodriguez said. “When everything closed down, I told myself it was OK to take a break and chill for a little bit, since everybody was in the same situation. It ended up being a break I never would have taken on my own, but it was something I think I needed.
“I slowly got back into it, knowing if I wasn’t bowling well, it would be fine, and everything would come back. Now, I’m just trying to get in as many games as I can.”
As she continues to prepare for her trip to Virginia, Rodriguez knows her teammates are taking the same steps to put the Fury in the best possible position to win.
Team success is something that has followed Rodriguez for more than a decade, starting with her impressive collegiate run at Maryland Eastern Shore.
She helped the Hawks claim three national titles – 2008 and 2011 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Bowling Championship and 2011 Intercollegiate Team Championships – and was named the National Tenpin Coaches Association Division I Player of the Year as a senior in 2011.
Internationally, Rodriguez and Team Colombia have collected three team gold medals since 2016 on the biggest stages, taking the top spot on the medal stand at the 2016 and 2018 Pan Am Bowling Women’s Championships and 2019 World Bowling Women’s Championships.
“I think it’s a different feeling, different strategy, different everything when you’re competing as part of a team,” said Rodriguez, who also won the gold medal in all-events at the 2019 World Women’s Championships. “But, I don’t think it only brings out the best in me – it brings out the best in a lot of people. I know we’re all responsible, disciplined and going to show up at our best.”
Managing the Fury will be United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer and 10-time PWBA Tour titlist Kim Kearney, an individual Rodriguez holds in the highest regard as both a coach and a friend.
“I’ve been friends with Kim for such a long time,” said Rodriguez, winner of the 2014 USBC Queens and 2018 PWBA Tour Championship. “When I was at Maryland Eastern Shore, we shared bus rides to events with her team at Delaware State. She’s one of the main people I go to when I need to work on my physical game, and I was really excited when she drafted me for this team. She’s like family to me. When she lived in Dallas, we would go to her house like once a month just to hang out with her family, so this is really special for me.”
When it’s time to lace up at Bowlero Centreville, Rodriguez is confident in what the Fury will bring to the table. From the top of the lineup to the anchor position, each member of the team has delivered clutch strikes at the highest levels, and the accolades speak for themselves.
In addition to having O’Keefe (2018-2019) and Liz Johnson (2015-2017) as PWBA Players of the Year, the Fury boasts a total of 44 PWBA Tour titles, 16 major championships and countless medals in international competition.
“We have so many fighters on this team,” Rodriguez said. “We’re all winners, team players and believe in who we are.”
The Fury and Waves are the latest additions to the PBA League in 2020. The teams are made up of athletes who competed on the PWBA Tour during the 2019 season, finished in the top 35 on the season-long points list and were selected during a formal draft.
Qualifying at the PBA League begins Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. Eastern and will be broadcast live on FloBowling. Competition will move to FS1 starting Sunday, Sept. 27 at noon Eastern, with the Anthony Division Quarterfinals getting head-to-head match play underway. The tournament will conclude Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern with the finals for the PBA Elias Cup.
There are two six-team divisions in the PBA League – the Carter Division and Anthony Division. The Fury will compete in the Carter Division, while the Waves will be in the Anthony Division.
Qualifying will consist of 12 Baker games to determine seeding in each division. The top two teams in each division will receive a bye to start match play, while the other teams will kick off the quarterfinals with a two-game Baker match to determine which team advances in the single-elimination event. If a match is tied after two games, a winner will be decided by a one-ball roll-off.
The winners of each division will advance to the finals, which will feature a best-of-five Baker match to determine the 2020 PBA League champion.
The Baker format requires each player to bowl two frames to complete each game.