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Buffalo’s Best / Women’s No. 3: Liz Johnson

The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 3 among women:

Name: Liz Johnson.

Sport: Bowling.

Hometown: Born in Niagara Falls, now lives in Cheektowaga.

High school: Niagara-Wheatfield.

College: Morehead (Ky.) State.

Update: Johnson, now 41, is still campaigning, entering most events on the shrunken PBA Tour and the new Professional Women’s Tour that was active last summer. At the same time, she has remained loyal to her roots, competing regularly in Western New York and New York State events and still bowling in top local leagues when her schedule allows. She was the first woman finalist and then the first woman to win the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Obenauer Masters, the most prestigious and grueling local competition. She has numerous state and city Tournament titles on her resume. Also, she was a member of the Bowlers Choice team that won the USBC Women’s championship with a record three-game series of 3,424 in 2010. She teamed with Sue Jeziorski to win the USBC Women’s Doubles championship in 2007, and she took home the All-Events title twice in the USBC Women’s Championship, 1998 and 2008.

Since 2007, she has won $152,164 in official money on the PBA and Women’s Tour. That includes $89,800 in earnings in the three seasons the PBA ran its Women’s Series in conjunction with regular tour events. She won two titles in the 16 Women’s Series event over three seasons.

Career overview: When the Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour folded in 2003, Johnson had won 11 titles, including the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open. Now, at the height of her career, the women’s tour was gone, but Johnson did not throw up her hands and quit. Instead she turned to the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, which then was a man’s domain. She not only set out to compete against the best male bowlers on the planet, she defeated many of them often. In doing so, she became a historic figure in women’s bowling and women’s sports in general and she earned the respect of all bowlers, male and female. Western New York has turned out several outstanding women’s bowlers, but Johnson’s accomplishments against women or men outshine them all.

A ton of firsts: Where do you begin? Johnson became the first woman to qualify for a PBA Tour tournament when she earned a berth in the round of 64 in the 2004 Uniroyal Classic. She next became the first woman to make it to a PBA Tour television final in the 2005 Banquet Open. She won her semifinal match over Wes Malott, 235-228, before losing to eventual PBA Player of the Year Tommy Jones in the final, 219-192. Shortly after that she became the first woman to win a PBA event when she won a Regional Tour stop, the 2005 Kingpin Lanes Open in Albany. It wasn’t against minor-league competition. To win she had to defeat two accomplished PBA Tour regulars, Kyle Shafer and Mike Fagan.

World traveler: Johnson has competed all over the world individually and as a member of Team USA. Johnson was part of Team USA that took home the gold medal in the WTBA World Women’s Championships in Hong Kong in 2014. She was also a member of two other winning U.S. teams in World Tenpin Competition. She has won 14 gold medals, 10 silver and seven bronze in international competitions such as the Pan-American Games and the World Tenpin championships.

Honors: Johnson was named “Female Bowler of the Decade” (2000–2009) in the Winter 2010 issue of U.S. Bowler. She has been enshrined in the USBC, Greater Buffalo USBC, Greater Buffalo Sports and the New York State USBC Halls of Fame. She was the Girls Scratch Champion at the 1992 Coca-Cola Youth Championships, Collegiate Rookie of the Year and Collegiate Bowler of the Year in 1993 and U.S. Amateur Champion in 1993 and 1994. She was the PWBA Rookie of the Year in 1996. Twice (2005 and 2007) she was named Female Bowler of the Year by the Bowling Writers Association of America.

Major victories: Besides the 1996 U.S. Open, Johnson won the Open in 2007 and 2013 and in doing so joined Marion Ladewig, Patty Costello and Kelly Kulick as the only three-time winners of the event. Also, she was the No. 1 qualifier for the 2010 Open, then lost to Kulick in the final match. Twice she has won the U.S. Queens, most recently this year when she rolled past top qualifier Eric McCarthy, 265-202, in the championship match. In 2001, she bowled the third televised 300 game in women’s bowling history in the Paula Carter Classic.