Team USA women set for 2019 Pan American Games in Peru

ARLINGTON, Texas - Shannon O'Keefe and Stefanie Johnson have been teammates on Team USA each year since 2005, and they've enjoyed success together across the globe.

This summer, they'll share another first-time experience as they travel to Lima, Peru, to represent the United States at the 2019 Pan American Games, which will take place July 26 through Aug. 11.

The event traditionally brings together approximately 6,700 athletes and features 39 sports and 62 disciplines.

The bowling competition will be held July 25-30 at the Bowling Center of La Villa Deportiva Nacional (VIDENA). There will be 16 men's countries and 16 women's countries represented.

Competition at the quadrennial event starts July 25 with doubles competition and will conclude with the singles medal round on July 30.

Doubles will include 12 games over two days, and medalists will be determined by their total pinfall.

Singles will include 12 games of qualifying over two days, before the field is cut to the top eight bowlers in each division for match play. The top four bowlers after match play will advance to the knockout-style semifinals.

Since bowling was added to the Pan American Games in 1991, Team USA has won 21 of a possible 32 gold medals and claimed 35 medals overall, 20 more than the next-closest country.

The Pan Am stage will be extra special for O'Keefe because bowling is not the only sport in which she has been a top-tier competitor. At 15, before a career in bowling even was an idea, she tried out for the U.S. Olympic softball team, nearly making the squad.

Now, she'll have the chance to share the spotlight with thousands of athletes from a variety of sports and potentially have a chance to see them in action in Peru.

"Where I am in my career now, being one of the older players, I do have some bucket list items I want to accomplish, and the Pan Am Games is one of those, but for multiple reasons," O'Keefe said. "I tried out for the Olympic softball team when I was 15 and was really close to making it, but I always thought that would be my only opportunity to have an Olympic-type experience. But, here we are 25 years later, and I get to have that experience with someone who's like my sister."

O'Keefe and Johnson, who have combined for 12 world championships and one QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup title in a combined 30 years as members of Team USA since they debuted together, will be joined in Peru by reigning United States Bowling Congress Masters champion Jakob Butturff and past collegiate standout Nick Pate.

Butturff and Pate have a combined five years of Team USA experience and both were 11 years old the year Johnson and O'Keefe made the team for the first time.

The four Team USA players earned their spots at the Pan Am Games by outdistancing their teammates in a two-part, point-based qualifying process that spanned more than three months.

The initial part of the process was a four-day, 24-game event, contested on four different World Bowling oil patterns, held at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington in early March.

The men's qualifying concluded with the USBC Masters in Las Vegas at the end of March, and the women's qualifying wrapped up with the conclusion of the 2019 USBC Queens in Wichita, Kansas, in May.

"I don't even know if there's a way to describe the feeling," O'Keefe said. "We were in the nail salon crunching numbers, and I started crying when I realized it was done, and it was us. I was texting her like crazy. I don't know how to explain it, but it's such a dream come true."

O'Keefe, a 40-year-old right-hander, is the reigning Professional Women's Bowling Association Player of the Year and already has collected two titles this season, which will run from late April until early September.

Late last season, Johnson, a 35-year-old right-hander, picked up her first major title and third PWBA Tour win overall.

"Honestly, it's pretty indescribable, especially having been on Team USA for 15 years and not being one of the players to qualify in the few opportunities we've had," Johnson said. "I know this is going to be an incredible experience, especially now that we're getting older."

Johnson is especially proud of the fact that she and O'Keefe qualified to represent Team USA at this year's Pan Am Games, while representatives for other international events, outside of the World Cup, are selected by the Team USA coaches.

"Having this chance to be a part of it, and knowing we qualified, rather than being selected, makes it more special," Johnson said. "It's the icing on the cake to be able to do it with my best friend and represent our country in an experience that's as close to the Olympics as we have right now."

The bowling portion of the Pan Am Games will include singles and doubles competition, both areas where the two have excelled in their Team USA career. Both are individual world champions, and they teamed up for a doubles world championship in 2013.

Regardless of how the bowling goes, Johnson plans to remember to enjoy all the experience has to offer, especially since it's something that only comes along once every four years.

"I literally am looking forward to the experience itself," Johnson said. "This is going to be like no other event we've been to with Team USA, since there will be competitors from so many other sports, and there will be chances to meet athletes and see their passion as they compete at the highest level in their sports. I'm looking forward to the entire Pan Am experience, and not just the giveaways."

Because both women are in the middle of the 2019 PWBA Tour season, they'll be as sharp as possible heading into the Pan Am Games, but that also means their time in Peru might be a little shorter than they hoped, since they have to get home in time for the PWBA East Hartford Open, being held in East Hartford, Connecticut, from Aug. 1-3.

Team USA's Shannon Pluhowsky won singles at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, and Liz Johnson brought home the bronze medal. The two were the silver medalists in doubles, finishing behind Colombia's Clara Guerrero and Rocio Restrepo.