Germany's Birgit Poppler speeds into spotlight on PWBA Tour

PLANO, Texas – The last two months for Birgit Poppler of Germany have been something one could describe as straight out of a movie script.

In July, Poppler earned the No. 1 seed for the finals of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Orlando Open at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando, Florida, which competitors knew would be taped at Plano Super Bowl this week in conjunction with the U.S. Women’s Open.

While that moment was celebrated, Poppler had a problem on her hands.

She initially hadn’t planned to enter the U.S. Women’s Open because of previous work commitments at her parent’s bowling center in Germany. Of course, since she hadn’t entered the tournament, she hadn’t booked a flight to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Poppler always must consider her travel schedule well before entering events because of the long trip from Germany to the United States. She had her summer pretty well-planned but welcomed the additional flight she’d need to book.

Her itinerary included time in the United States for the PWBA Orlando Open, PWBA St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open and Nationwide PWBA Rochester Open, which happened over three consecutive weekends, starting July 29, but she knew she’d have to return home shortly after to represent her country at the 2017 World Games in Poland.

“I planned on bowling both Florida stops and Rochester and go home after,” said Poppler, who had previous success at Boardwalk Bowl in the form of a doubles gold medal with Tina Hulsch at the 2008 World Bowling Youth Championships. “After I made the show in Orlando, I knew I had to come back for the finals, so why not plan to bowl in the U.S. Women’s Open as well, since it was being held in the same bowling center.”

Poppler had the right idea for sure – maximize the opportunity and plane ticket – but she decided to add another twist. Instead of booking her flight directly to the DFW area, she booked a flight to Houston, which was a better financial choice.
She planned to arrive a few days early, make the five-hour drive from Houston to Dallas, and enjoy the area before beginning competition at the U.S. Women’s Open.

While competing at the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland, where she rolled a 300 game, Poppler received a message from Professional Bowlers Association champion Jason Sterner, asking if she’d bowl with him in the PBA/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles event in Houston, after his original partner, PWBA player Cassandra Leuthold, of Black Hawk, South Dakota, was injured.

Poppler was scheduled to arrive in Houston on July 28 but agreed to bowl with Sterner, since their qualifying squad wasn’t scheduled until the next day. The last-minute nature of the request left her no time to practice or prepare, but it might’ve been a blessing in disguise.   

Poppler and Sterner navigated their way through seven games of qualifying and a five-game cashers’ round and found themselves among the eight teams advancing to the match-play portion of the event.

They won five consecutive matches to overcome a 238-pin deficit and defeated Chicago’s Diandra Asbaty and Jason Belmonte of Australia in the position-round match to win the title – Poppler’s first PWBA title and Sterner’s second PBA victory.

“Maybe it was a good thing it was last-minute,” Poppler said. “He asked me when I bowled the World Games, so I went home for three days, did some laundry and all the stuff you do when you’re home, and then I came over here. So, I literally had no time to prepare or think about the tournament.

On Friday, I went to the bowling center, but I didn’t bowl the practice session, and Jason did. Since he’s on Brunswick staff, he knew my equipment and kind of told me how the lanes developed and what balls I could use. It worked out fine the next day. We worked together really well, even though we hadn’t bowled with each other before, and we were really able to help each other.”

Poppler was hoping to keep the momentum going into her first U.S. Women’s Open appearance. She was excited to bowl for a variety of reasons, and thankful her parents allowed her the extended time off.

The U.S. Women’s Open is known as one of the sport’s most challenging events, primarily because of the long format, which features 56 games of competition before the five-player championship stepladder.

“I like the format because it really comes down to the person who knocks down the most pins,” Poppler said. “Whether I’m the one or not, it’s really fair to me. Being patient is key. Even if you start slow, you still have a chance. I think it’s good.”

Competing in the event also gave her a chance to get comfortable at Plano Super Bowl before hitting the lanes for the finals of the Orlando Open. As the top seed for that event, Poppler is one game away from what now would be her second PWBA Tour title.

The U.S. Women’s Open will conclude Sunday live on CBS Sports Network at noon Eastern, and it will be followed by the finals of the Orlando Open, St. Petersburg-Clearwater Open and Rochester Open, which will be taped for broadcast on Aug. 15, Aug. 22, and Aug. 29, respectively.

Poppler’s run of success continued at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she was one of 38 bowlers from the 114-player field who advanced to the cashers’ round.

Though she did not make match play, finishing 37th overall, she’s sharp, confident and comfortable heading into the TV show, which will be her second in the United States. She also made the show at the 2016 United States Bowling Congress Queens, finishing fourth.

Poppler will be joined on the Orlando Open show by No. 2 Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, No. 3 Liz Johnson of Deerfield, Illinois, and local standout Stefanie Johnson of nearby McKinney, Texas, the No. 4 seed.

“At least, I can know what to expect,” Poppler said. “It’s one game, so anything can happen. You can lose or you can win, but it will be a good show with three really great bowlers. Any one of us could win, and I’m looking forward to it.”