Buzzing Bee Achieves Dream in Winning QLC Title
An old friend to the sport and many within it finally etched her name into the champion list of the Queensland Ladies Classic (QLC), the third-ranked event in the women’s division for 2021.
The 22nd winner of the prestigious event would be none other than Queenslander Bianca Flanagan. Affectionately known as Bee to many, the soon to be 35-year old’s victory would add to the growing trend of ranked event winners making a triumphant return from a break from the sport after claiming the title at Caboolture Bowl over the weekend.
It’s been a few years since Bianca laced up the shoes for a ranked event, last competing at the 2019’s NSW Open. Sporting one of the more impressive bowling resumes out there. Life is now different for Bee. A TBA staff member for many years, Bee made the switch to become a nurse a few years ago. A return to the lanes never officially on the cards, yet a desire to bowl certain events was always something she wanted to continue.
“Ladies Classic will always be one of those special events that I will always bowl”, explained Bee. “A return to bowling full time was always a maybe, as I don’t want to lock myself in to feel the pressure. Not having the pressure and expectation I must do something makes it easier”.
Not since the 2015 Queensland Ladies Classic (QLC) had the event received so many entries. A total of 54 bowlers would make up the quality field of ladies vying for glory in the popular event in the sunshine state. For the eventual winner, the QLC is one event close to her heart.
“I have been bowling in it for such a long time, the people and names who have won it, for me, it’s the one tournament that felt like the pinnacle for me because I am so sentimental as a person. It was so overwhelming to understand I am now part of that champion list forever,” explained Bee. “I think I have bowled the tournament 17 or 18 times – it was the third year it ran, I bowled”.
That year was 2001, Bee was a junior, and one of her mentors/idols in Kelly Warren would win her second of three QLC titles in a row. After witnessing her sister Jayde compete the year before, a 14-year-old Bianca was keen to experience what it was all about, and she has been hooked ever since.
“I know a lot of people feel the same way about QLC that I do. It was great to see everyone could get on a plane on Friday and be out in Caboolture, compete and support the event. You really had the best of the best in the country competing,” said Bee.
The format saw bowlers in two squads complete 14 games of qualifying (eight games on the first day and six on the second) before cutting the field to the top 16 who would progress to stage 2 and bowl an additional four games to provide the top 8 finalists. Like the QJC, the top 8 would compete in a seeded bracket final series that utilises the McIntyre system used in the football codes. The event is done and dusted in two days, all adding to the tournament’s appeal for bowlers.
“I do love the fact everyone bowls both days regardless of if you make finals or not” explained Bee. “The games are broken up nicely with a decent number of games. Only having to bowl 8 one day and 6 the next, you’re not completely ruining yourself in the process, it makes it easier for a wide variety of ages and skills to compete and experience how great the tournament is”.
North Queenslander Chloe Jones would finish top qualifier at the end of the eight-game schedule on day one. Bowling in the second squad of the day, the national training squad (NTS) member would average an impressive 214.1 over the first eight highlighted by 912 over the last four games and providing a total score of 1,713 over eight games.
Windsor Tenpin bowler Bree Macpherson would finish in second after leading the first squad earlier in the day. After squad 2, Macpherson’s 1,686 would place her 27 pins behind leader Jones and edging out the next pair of challengers in Bianca Flanagan (1,667) and Bec Whiting (1,664). Bowling in her home bowl, Caboolture’s Tarmeka Tritton would provide the high game of the day with 278 in her first game.
Day two began with all bowlers having six games to move up or down the standings to finish in the top 16 to progress to stage two.
The cream would rise to the top, with the 7-time winner of the QLC, Bec Whiting making her move to finish as the top qualifier. Whiting would shoot 1,297 in the final six games providing a 14-game total of 2,961, moving her up from the 4th position to the top spot.
Macpherson and Flanagan would maintain their day one spot on the leader board, with Macpherson trailing Whiting by 28 pins with 2,993 whilst Flanagan finished with 2,887. Day one leader Chloe Jones would move down to 4th position (2,861) while fellow NTS team member Jaimie-Lee Spiller would climb from day one’s 12th position to finish in the number five spot.
Three names went out from day one’s standings, and three names came into the top 16 that would progress to stage two. From Zone Bowling Tuggeranong in the ACT, Angela Fan would be one of those moving up. Finishing day one in 19th position, Fan would climb seven spots to finish in 12th position. After finishing day one in 22nd place, Caboolture’s Alicia Melton climbed up to finish in 15th place. Yet, the biggest climb came from NTS member Rebecca Voukolos. The NT star finished day one in 23rd spot before climbing ten positions at the end of day two and finish in 13th position. The climb highlighted by a tournament-high game score of 279 in her 11th game.
Bianca would start day one with a 159 game before returning on day two with a 157. The slow start more a habit than a new thing, but with experience, Bianca does not sweat the small stuff that can happen throughout a tournament.
“I’ve always been a slow starter. It’s always been something I have struggled with, and I think it’s nerves. I get so nervous. If I could fix it, I would have probably done it 20 years ago,” Bianca said with a laugh.
“Not freaking out – knowing it’s something I can fix, a 150 isn’t going to kill you but being able to bounce back and make good choices and having the confidence to know I can still come back and bowl a 250 and things can even out quickly”.
Bee would indeed bounce back. Bianca would quickly regain her focus and provide her strongest patch of qualifying from game 4 to 7 shooting games of 234, 223, 231, and 236. The pattern was allowing Bee to play how she likes to play.
“That’s where the lanes opened up a little bit more. It played into what I do best, being able to swing the ball a little bit and stay strong in my shot, it’s something I’ve always felt comfortable in doing, so when I had the opportunity, I just wanted to capitalise on it,” said Bee.
Stage two would see the top 16 bowlers complete four additional games. The extra game’s purpose was to provide bowlers with the chance to make the top 8 finals series and increase their seeding for the bracket. The top four bowlers rewarded with a double chance due to the implemented McIntyre Finals system.
Bec Whiting would lock in her number one seed by maintaining the top spot with a very impressive 927 over the four games. Yet, it would not be the most amazing four games of the field. It was not even the most impressive four games by a Rebecca! Rebekah Commane would shoot up the leader board from 9th to the 2nd seed shooting 931 over the four games (248, 225, 213, 245).
The top eight final seeds were locked with Macpherson and Dena Buxton claiming the 3rd and 4th seeds in the bracket.
All finals would be one game. Whiting would beat fellow Victorian Dena Buxton in the 1v4 matchup 184-178, while Macpherson would put an end to the incredible run from Rebekah Commane, edging her out 201-183 in the 2v3 matchup.
In the elimination finals, Bianca Flanagan defeated Jaimie-Lee Spiller 193-155, and another Commane, older sister Kaitlyn would beat Chloe Jones 248-210.
The Commane sisters went to battle in the semi-finals. Older sister Kaitlyn maintaining bragging rights with a nail-biting one-pin victory over Rebekah, eliminating her from the tournament 163-162. Another close battle was had in the other semi-final, with Flanagan only winning by a measly three pins 213-210 over Dena Buxton. The number two and four seeds were eliminated from the event.
Bee would then defeat Bree Macpherson 189-140, while Kaitlyn Commane would spring the upset of the tournament, defeating defending champion Bec Whiting 210-195. The number one and three seeds were eliminated, with the bracket throwing up upset after upset. Seeds five and six would meet in the championship match.
Bianca Flanagan Vs Kaitlyn Commane. Two names that are well known throughout the bowling community, yet, two names that have not been on the radar for some time. Both girls are now attempting a similar return to the sport. The two bowlers share a long-time friendship that spans many years on the lanes together.
“We have a very special relationship. We became very close when we roomed together in Hong Kong as it was her first adult trip overseas,” explained Bee. “A week before departing, my uncle passed away, and while I was overseas, I lost my job; we were both there for each other unconditionally. I like to think I was there to support her in her journey into Adult bowling, but I do not think she will ever truly understand how much that trip meant to me and how supportive she was of me. Kaitlyn kept me focused on what I needed to do rather than the other things that were going on in my life. We will always have a special bond because of that”.
“Kaitlyn is a mum now. She has taken some time off, focussing on raising her daughter, and she is a fantastic mum. She has a clear goal of getting back into the sport after finding her passion for the sport again, which is great to see because she is really talented and has a lot to offer. It’s great to see she’s had two great outings now since she’s been back”.
Bianca would defeat Kaitlyn 164-148 in a low scoring game where both struggled to manage the challenging pattern.
“That pair was not very nice”, explained Bee. “If you looked at all matches in the finals, that was the lowest-scoring pair. I don’t think either of us made it easy either– I know I missed two easy spares. I think she was close to the same. Then it just came down to covering some of the harder became the difference”.
When asked if she is aware of the struggles occurring with her opponent and if she takes notice, Bee clarified.
“More so what their ball is doing. You understand each other’s games when you bowl or watch each other as much as we have. When you are struggling, you watch what the other person is doing because it makes it easier (for me) to choose what you need to do. If I were bowling well, I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice. I was watching what her shot was doing to help me in making a change”.
The 10th frame being the eventual time Bee would realise she had fulfilled a dream – she would now be a Queensland Ladies Classic champion, forever! The realisation was not helping in finishing the game strongly.
“When I got up in the 10th frame, I threw my shot, and I left the four-pin. Kaitlyn got up and bowled and didn’t strike – I knew then I couldn’t lose, and that’s where I got a bit emotional. It helped me miss that spare which I’m a bit mad about. I got up, and my body muscles forgot how to function, I was just very overwhelmed with emotion – my body didn’t want to work physically”.
Bowling in her first QLC with the McIntyre match play final series, Bianca’s wealth of experience helped her manage the mental challenges that can occur in the head-to-head matchplay sections of a tournament.
“Throughout my career, one thing I focus on, the one thing that was drilled into me at a young age is you can’t change what someone else is doing. You can only focus on what you are doing physically – the outcome is always determined by what you do. From that, there’s not a lot different from qualifying to matchplay,” explained Bee. “The challenge is mental. It’s easy when there are only two people there, to get focused on what the other person is doing and try ‘beat them’ – but essentially it’s the same thing”.
“If they are going to get up and execute their shots better than me, then they deserve the win, that’s the game, but I can’t affect what they are doing. I can only focus on what I’m doing. That is to get up and make the best 10 or 12 shots I can. That’s all I can do regardless of if it’s qualifying or matchplay. In matchplay – you have to continually remind yourself of that stuff as it’s easy to get caught up in it”.
The win sparked many messages of congratulations and support from a wide variety of people to Bee on social media. The experience feeling strange yet providing some validation.
“It’s weird, but so humbling”, explained Bee. “When you have been involved in something for as long as I have, I’ve always second guessed whether or not the things I have done have impacted anyone. Sometimes in our sport, it’s really easy for things to seem negative or feel that way, so to have such support from so many different places and different levels of bowling – it’s really humbling”.
The reaction online from the community can essentially put any second guesses to rest—a much-loved figure in the sport who has had a significant impact on many that play and coach our sport. After idolising many champions of the event, Bianca Flanagan is now a QLC champion and forever will be. Her name engraved on the trophy and continued coaching efforts will surely motivate younger generations to follow in her footsteps.