For second straight year, O’Fallon’s O’Keefe is the top professional women’s bowler

The reigning Professional Women’s Bowling Association Player of the Year, Shannon O’Keefe entered the start of the 2019 season with a new outlook and new goals as she prepared for her opening tournament.

A resident of O’Fallon and head women’s bowling coach at McKendree University, O’Keefe won twice on the PWBA Tour in 2018 and, while she captured the tour’s highest honor, her less-than-satisfying finish dictated that changes needed to be made.

Specifically, O’Keefe said, she needed to redirect her attention from the PWBA points standings to knocking down pins.

“The last three or four events of the 2018 season were just terrible for me because I was so obsessed with the (player of the year) points race,’’ O’Keefe said. “I was more focused on what the people around me were doing when I should have been focused on what I needed to be doing. I just had a few very bad tournaments in a row and mentally I was just losing it. I felt like while I won player of the year in 2018 and that it was a really great accomplishment, I felt like I was just holding on at the end.”

In 2019, O’Keefe reaffirmed her position as the top women’s professional bowler in the world by winning five tournaments, including the PWBA Tour Championship. O’Keefe also won the Tour Championship in 2017.

Her three major championships cinched her second straight PWBA Player of the Year honor.

“After 2018 it was time to take a long look at myself in the mirror. Is was just time to grow up and try and look at things a little differently,” O’Keefe said. “I don’t want to miss parts my career because I’m so wrapped up and frustrated with the struggle of things. I talked with my sports psychologist and we came with a couple of ideas.

“I wanted to be able to compete week in and week out like I was like that 13-year-old girl on the softball field who just loved to compete. And that’s how I was going to approach the year. ... I was going to control what I can control. In bowling there are basically two things you can control. That is shot execution and how you react to everything.”

Shannon O’Keefe vs Dasha Kovalova in the championship match of the 2019 PWBA Tour Championship at the Old Dominion Building at Richmond Raceway, Richmond, VA. September 18, 2019 Photo by Gregg Ellman Gregg Ellman Gregg Ellman

Taking over the McKendree program in 2014, O’Keefe, with the help of her husband and McKendree University Director of Bowling Bryan O’Keefe, Shannon O’Keefe has guided the Bearcats to four straight top five finishes at the NCAA National Bowling Championship. In 2017, McKendree became the first non-NCAA Division I program to win the title and recorded the first 4-0 sweep in finals history.

The Bearcats placed second in 2018 and fifth in the national finals in 2019. For those achievements, O’Keefe is a four-time National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) Division II/III Coach of the Year.

As a competitor, O’Keefe’s resume rivals any other female bowler in the world. A 15-year member of Team USA, O’Keefe has been winning medals and honors all over the world for a long time.

In 2019, O’Keefe won a silver medal and two bronze medals at the World Bowling Women’s Championships in Las Vegas and a gold medal in doubles at the Pan American Games in Peru. In all, O’Keefe has collected more than 30 international medals in competition.

For O’Keefe, whose 13 wins is the most since the PWBA restarted in 2015, the past two years’ success actually began when she received a confidence boost from Hammer Bowling, with whom she signed a contract prior to the 2018 season.

“Last year I signed a new contract with Hammer and when I did they asked me what it would feel like to win player of the year. That was the first time a company that I signed with had ever asked me that,’’ O’Keefe recalled. “I‘m like, ‘wow, they really think that I can actually do this.’ They gave me that extra boost of confidence.

“If they truly believe that I can win player of the year then I can do this. So that was my goal.”

O’Keefe has been the dominant player on tour ever since. In addition to her five wins in 2019, she placed second twice and has placed no lower than 17th.

“This season, when I struggled, my husband would just tell me ‘embrace the struggle — you are going to learn so much more if you just embrace the struggle,’’’ O’Keefe said.

Then, after winning a tournament, the O’Keefe’s would high-five and head to Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate. Shannon O’Keefe says she’s got more seasons of celebrating ahead of her.

“One of things I think is great about bowling is that you can do it your entire life,” she said. “Doing it at the level that mentally I want to compete at I’m hoping I have another 6-8 years.’’

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.