The Ewing High School girls bowling team had a standout surrounded by less experienced teammates last year.
After graduating their top bowler, Raquel Sparano, that make-up has flipped this year with a standout freshman surrounded by experience, and it’s been a winning formula.
“They’re just bowling well,” said Ewing head coach Dave Angebranndt. “Their chemistry is good. They’re working together. They’re enjoying themselves and they’re having fun. That’s the biggest thing. When you see their camaraderie and chemistry working, everything else plays out.”
Ewing lost Sparano from last year’s team that went 16-2 and took fifth in Central Jersey Group 2, but Jazmyn Willis has stepped in as a top bowler in the area. She’s only a freshman, but her arrival has been important.
“When I came, they all had open arms,” Willis said. “They say, stay focused and don’t let anybody intimidate you, you’re as good as anyone else.”
All around her is good experience. There are senior sisters Korin and Kayla Ricketts who have been leaders and kept the team united.
“I think we are a fabulous team,” Korin said. “We are very energetic and we make sure that everyone tries their best.”
Both sisters have improved to help the team. They have been encouraged by the way the team has pulled for each other. The positive environment has helped.
Said Kayla: “The most encouraging development for our team is when we all give high fives and tell each other, ‘nice try,’ and help each other up when we are down.”
Amelia Baffuto is a junior in her third season bowling for Ewing. She has become a mainstay in the lineup.
“Previous seasons have helped me for this year by preparing me to be able to deal with that pressure and by allowing me to learn from my previous teammates,” she said.
Baffuto has been working at developing her skills more each year. She has seen it pay off with higher scores.
“I think an area I’ve improved in is learning the importance of spares,” she said. “Coach is always reminding us that spares are everything.”
That lesson is fresh for Olivia Ross. She is a sophomore who was able to contribute last year as a freshman. She can identify with the adjustments that Willis is in the middle of making in her first year of high school bowling.
“This year I feel like I have more experience,” Ross said. “Coming in as a freshman, I had no idea what to expect as a bowler and what to expect of matches. But now this year, at least I have some knowledge of what’s to come with the season and what to expect with other teams and how to look into statistics before a match to see how well they are doing.”
Everyone can see how well Ewing is doing. The Blue Devils improved to 13-0 with a 4-0 win over New Egypt on Jan. 25.
“In the beginning, we didn’t really know where we’re at with other teams with new bowlers and graduating bowlers, like how we lost Raquel,” Ross said. “We didn’t know how we’d do the first couple matches, but as the season progresses we have a feel for where we’re at and how we can improve.”
Ewing has been uplifted by its early success. They were a strong third-place finisher at the Olympic Conference holiday tournament, which was good preparation for states and a good test of their lineup.
“It’s helped tremendously that they have experience,” Angebranndt said. “When it comes down to bowling, it’s all based off experience. Having the experience to bowl at these bowling alleys for a third straight year, it helps with being comfortable. Now you have a freshman that is new and you have girls that have been there three or four years and they can help her out.”
The Blue Devils are always looking to help each other grow. Their positive feedback has fostered a good learning environment for their bowlers of all levels of experience.
“I can help my team by guiding them to where they need to be,” Korin Ricketts said. “I help them work on their position and where they throw the ball.”
She has to if Ewing is to be as good as it hopes. Ewing retains a strong outlook every year, and this year is no different. They are determined to be a contender and improve on their fifth-place finish when they return to sectionals Feb. 10 for the chance at a state tournament berth. Willis could qualify with the team or also just as an individual if she bowls well enough.
“That’s definitely a big goal for me because I’ve always wanted to do that,” Willis said. “This is my first chance to get myself out there for other people to see me other than my school. I’m mentally preparing for it.”
Willis has been counting down the days until she could help the high school team. She had an uncle that bowled against Angebranndt, and she’s been bowling for years.
“I can see where her success is coming from with her family,” Angebranndt said. “They take it very seriously and it shows with the results. She’s come in and stepped in with little hesitation.”
Being the team’s anchor bowler isn’t easy as a freshman, but she is learning to handle the expectations.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “You might be down by 40 in the last frame and you’re trying to hype your team up, and you still need to strike out on your frame. It’s a lot. I just try to stay focused and stay calm. When I get worked up and frustrated, it’s hard to get out of that slump for me. I just try to stay positive at all times.”
Willis is grateful for the guidance of her teammates. She’s having a great experience in her first year of high school bowling.
“I think I’ve grown as a bowler being on this team,” Willis said. “We learn so much from each other. There are a couple games where I think I could have done better, but everything is a work in progress.”
The Blue Devils have been pleased by their start, and they have shaped themselves into strong contenders. Though the group has changed its look somewhat, it is just as competitive.
“The girls are bowling very well,” Angebranndt said. “Fortunately for us, we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re probably the more competitive team in the BCSL, but that’s just because of having our feeder program with the opportunity for Chip Slocum to work with our bowlers on a weekend to weekend basis. It helps them mentally.
“I couldn’t do it without having their support at Slocum’s. It’s shown with the success the boys and girls have had this year. Hopefully it can result in a sectional championship and potentially qualifying for the state tournament.”
It’s the ultimate goal for a Ewing team that has a good make-up with a budding star and plenty of experience around her.
“I think this year we have an amazing team,” Ross said. “Last year we had an amazing team too. But Jazmyn is such a strong bowler and she brings so much to the team, so much enthusiasm, she’s an amazing teammate and amazing person, and so are all the other bowlers.”