Kovalova leads after first round of 2018 USBC Queens

RENO, Nev. - Ukraine's Daria Kovalova was at the head of the class Thursday at the 2018 United States Bowling Congress Queens, averaging nearly 250 on the way to capturing the opening-round lead.

The 23-year-old right-hander rolled games of 236, 247, 236, 259 and 267 at the National Bowling Stadium for a 1,245 total.

The 2018 USBC Queens, the first major on the 2018 Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour schedule, will run through May 22 at the famed 78-lane venue, with the stepladder finals being broadcast live on CBS Sports Network on May 22 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Kovalova started the 2018 PWBA Tour season with a solid start at the PWBA Las Vegas Open in April, finishing 11th overall.

She missed the next two stops, however, as she finished her degree in art and illustration at Wichita State.

"After bowling the first stop, I had my final exams and graduation," said Kovalova, a four-time National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association All-American. "Since my parents came up, I was able to practice all of last week before getting ready to travel. I also worked on some visualizations and exercises to make sure my game was sharp."

Kovalova kept her options open while competing on the burn squad Thursday and let this week's 38-foot lane condition show her the way.

"I didn't want to have any expectations on how it would play because you never know when it might go wrong," said Kovalova, who finished tied for ninth place at the 2017 Queens in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "I tried to come out here with a clear mind and not look at it as a burn squad, but rather as just a slightly different pattern. I was able to see what the lanes were showing me and tried to play it and follow the transition and moves, and it worked."

Sweden's Cajsa Wegner was second for the day with 1,218, while Team USA's Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, was third with 1,210. A pair of past Queens champions, Diandra Asbaty (2012) of Chicago and Kelly Kulick (2007, 2010) of Union, New Jersey, rounded out the top five with scores of 1,200 and 1,187, respectively.

Defending champion Diana Zavjalova of Latvia is ninth after Thursday's five-game block with a 1,160 total.

Zavjalova, a two-time Queens champion, is guaranteed the No. 64 spot in the double-elimination match-play bracket at Queens, but bowling qualifying will give her a chance to improve her seeding.

Competition will resume Friday at noon Eastern with the second round of qualifying. All bowlers will bowl 15 games of qualifying over three days to determine the 63 bowlers joining Zavjalova in match play.

The match-play bracket will feature three-game matches with total pinfall determining who advances. The five players who make their way through the bracket will advance to the stepladder finals and have the chance to take home the top prize of $20,000.

All rounds of competition leading up to the stepladder finals will be broadcast on Xtra Frame, the exclusive online bowling channel for the Professional Bowlers Association. To subscribe to watch the action on Xtra Frame, visit XtraFrame.TV.