ARLINGTON, Texas – Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, is a team player.
This has been true for nearly her entire competitive bowling career and describes her life off the lanes, too.
The 36-year-old right-hander has been a member of Team USA each year since 2005. Before that, she was an All-American at the University of Central Florida, part of Junior Team USA and a standout on the Miami high school and youth bowling scenes.
At home, she and husband, Chris, are parents to Levi, 6, and Kenzie, 3, which also requires extensive collaboration and communication.
Johnson soon will add another team to the list when she joins the Phoenix Fury on the lanes at Bowlero Centreville in Centreville, Virginia, for the 2020 edition of the Professional Bowlers Association League.
She’ll be one of 10 Professional Women’s Bowling Association stars competing in the event, which will run from Sept. 26-30.
Johnson will join fellow PWBA champions Liz Johnson, Shannon O’Keefe, Jordan Richard and Maria José Rodriguez on the Fury, which will be managed by United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer and 10-time PWBA Tour titlist Kim Kearney.
“I’m honored to have been picked to be a part of the two ladies teams in this year’s PBA League, and I was especially flattered to be picked by Kim, who is someone I looked up to while growing up,” said Johnson, a three-time PWBA champion and 2015 PWBA Rookie of the Year. “I thrive in the team atmosphere and look forward to shoeing up and bowling with the ladies, rather than against them.”
The race to the Elias Cup, the coveted prize of the PBA League, will include 12 teams, featuring the top stars from both the PBA Tour and PWBA Tour, being split into two divisions – Carter and Anthony – named after two of the sport’s greatest competitors, Don Carter and Earl Anthony.
Since its inception in 2013, the PBA League traditionally has featured eight teams. The field previously was expanded to 10 teams for the 2020 season, and the addition of two women’s teams brings the total to 12.
When qualifying at the PBA League kicks off Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. Eastern, Johnson knows her responsibilities will be simple – strike, spare and motivate – all things she regularly has done for Team USA.
“I just like being a part of something bigger than me, and there’s nothing better than team bowling,” Johnson said. “I feel I’ve always been a great motivator, and I think it’s important for every team to have one of those, if not more. I want my teammates to know I’m there for them and that they’ll get 100 percent of me all the time. I’ll never give up.”
Having spent time on Team USA with Liz Johnson, O’Keefe and Richard, and many days competing against Rodriguez, who is from Colombia, both internationally and on the PWBA Tour, Johnson knows there will be familiarity within the group, even though they’ll be competing as the Phoenix Fury for the first time.
Initial virtual meetings and discussions have reinforced their comfort level with one another and their abilities, and the biggest common denominator is that they’re all just excited to go out and bowl. They’re going to enjoy the process and the opportunity and simply bowling against the lanes, rather than focus on any potential pre-determined storylines, such as the obvious battle of the sexes, since 10 of the 12 teams are comprised only of men.
“I think it’s important when you’re on a team to know each person and their habits and capabilities, and, in this case, I do think I know all the girls on the team pretty well,” said Johnson, who won a doubles gold medal with O’Keefe at the 2019 Pan American Games and multiple team world championships with O’Keefe and Liz Johnson. “I think it’s important to be honest with each other and trust each other and know we’re all coming in prepared.”
Over the past few months, while COVID-19 halted most formal competition, including the 2020 PWBA Tour season, Johnson made sure to maintain her normal practice routine and recently has been able to compete in some local events.
Off the lanes, she worked to keep a positive outlook and constructively fill the time she otherwise would have spent traveling and competing. There were extra workouts, reading and bonus summer activities with her family.
“I was disheartened that the tour season was canceled, but the silver lining was that I got to spend the entire summer with my kids and family,” said Johnson, whose at-home support system also includes her mother, Nancy. “It was important for me to show the kids how to stay positive, even when there’s a curveball like we’ve experienced in 2020. The extra time together has been great, and we’ve been able to adjust well to the balance of virtual learning, teaching, practicing and working.”
Much like with her on-lane teammates, life is about the sharing of responsibilities, playing to everyone’s strengths and not being afraid to depend on others, while also being available to be leaned upon.
When it’s time to head to Virginia for the PBA League, Johnson knows things will be covered at home. That will allow her to focus on the Fury, the competition and its unique Baker format, which requires each player to bowl two frames to complete each game.
Qualifying will be broadcast live on FloBowling, and competition will move to FS1 starting Sept. 27 at noon Eastern, with the Anthony Division quarterfinals getting head-to-head match play underway. The championship match will take place Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern.
“I’m just ready for the adrenaline rush of being up there and getting to bowl, and doing it alongside all the other girls will be amazing,” Johnson said. “It was so exciting to be picked, but terrifying at the same time waiting to find out. I was ranked No. 9 last year and didn’t have the best season, so I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, especially with all the available talent. There definitely was some confetti and a celebration when I was picked, and I’m absolutely ready to compete.”
Johnson and the Phoenix Fury will compete in the Carter Division, while the Miami Waves will be in the Anthony Division.
The Miami Waves roster will include Danielle McEwan, Dasha Kovalova, Clara Guerrero, Liz Kuhlkin and Missy Parkin. Bob Learn Jr., part of the 2020 USBC Hall of Fame class, is the Waves manager.
The Portland Lumberjacks, led by USBC Hall of Famer Tim Mack, hoisted the Elias Cup in 2019. The team included the 2019 Mark Roth PBA League Most Valuable Player Wes Malott, Kris Prather, Kyle Troup, Ryan Ciminelli and Mitch Hupé.
In 2020, Mack’s team will include Malott, Prather, Troup, Packy Hanrahan and Sweden’s Martin Larsen.