Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg Seeded Second to Kelly Kulick for 2011 U.S. Women's Open Stepladder Finals

"It's great to be a part of the biggest tournament ever. I actually have a second, third, fourth, and a fifth in the Open, and I've led the Open and lost. This would be totally huge."
--Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg

Okay, I'll admit it. When Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg's husband, Gary, told me a week ago that Leanne was bowling "very, very well" and that he liked her chances at the 2011 U.S. Women's Open this year, I had my doubts. I didn't have any doubts about Leanne's bowling ability, mind you. Her 26 national titles, two PWBA Player of the Year awards, Queens title, multiple U.S. Open stepladder finals appearances, and over 100 televised bowling appearances amply proved her ability to perform masterfully at the highest level of women's bowling.

But what had me feeling a little doubtful was the fact that after the PWBA folded in 2003, Leanne's competitive fire seemed to wane somewhat. Oh, she bowled the Steve Cook Classic league at my home house, still bowled local tournaments, still performed admirably at the USBC Women's Opens, and placed seventeenth in last year's USBC Queens, fourteenth in last year's U.S. Women's Open, and thirteenth in this year's USBC Queens, but I still had the feeling that the absence of a professional tour, recent motherhood, the demands of work, and the fact that she'd be up against most of the finest female bowlers in the world, many of whom were young and hungry and superbly trained members of national teams, including Team USA, would make it difficult for Leanne to crack the top 16 into match play much less have a realistic shot at making the televised finals of the biggest tournament in the history of women's bowling.

Well, my doubts were dashed to pin dust by Leanne's remarkable showings in qualifying and match play over these past few days. She finished seventh in qualifying, rose to third after a blistering block last night in the first round of match play, and, following today's 8 games of match play, she finds herself seeded second for tomorrow night's stepladder finals. That's right, Leanne Barrette-Hulsenberg needs to win only two matches tomorrow night to accomplish about the only great thing she has yet to accomplish in her storied bowling career--a U.S. Women's Open title.

The USBC's Lucas Wiseman reported during the live streaming of today's match play that when he talked to Leanne briefly this morning after it became certain that she'd make the stepladder finals, she confessed that she'd be feeling very "nervous" when it came time for her to bowl under the television lights on specially constructed lanes in the middle of Cowboy's Stadium in Texas tomorrow night. But I'm guessing that her less experienced and less accomplished opponents will be feeling just as nervous if not more so, and that she has a very good chance to win the title.

For even if she wins her first match and faces top seeded Kelly Kulick--who in one mind-bending five game stretch of match play today strung together games of 279, 278, 269, 279, and 248--in the final match, anything can happen in one game, and anyone can win. Leanne can certainly beat any female bowler on the planet, as she did this morning when she defeated Kulick in the position round to close out match play. She can do it again tomorrow night, if she gets the chance.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to watch the action until ESPN2 airs it Saturday at 6 PM Eastern. But I know I won't be able to resist finding out what happens as soon as possible after it happens.

You can watch the position round of today's match play below.

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