Bowler Olivia Ross during a 4-0 win against Pennsauken at Slocum’s Bowling Center on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Olivia Ross is admired by bowling teammates and opponents alike for her ability to pick up spares.

It wasn’t always that way for the Ewing High School junior.

“I’ve just focused on working on it,” Ross said. “I knew when I first started bowling it was a weakness of mine. I kept practicing, particularly picking up common spares like the 7 pin and the 10 pin. I’ve been more consistent.”

Ross is one of two players who have returned to the varsity girls’ lineup for the Blue Devils. She has been a steady example on the lanes for a developing Ewing team.

“She doesn’t say much,” said Ewing head coach Dave Angebranndt. “Olivia is quiet… She’s been a tremendous help to the girls because they watch her bowl and they see how confident she is.”

Ross is in her third year in the varsity lineup. She got her season off to a flying start with a high game of 193 and a high set of 555. Her consistency is something that the Blue Devils have come to expect.

“She is like a dart thrower,” Angebranndt said. “You picture a dart thrower and you tell them to pick a spot and throw it and that’s what she is. She doesn’t throw the ball very hard, but out of 10 frames, if she doesn’t strike, she’ll probably make nine out of 10 spares… She’s been like a silent assassin. Teams have said something to me about her every time we’ve bowled.”

The Blue Devils started the season 9-5 after a 4-0 win over Medford Tech on Jan. 22.

“It comes down to making spares,” Angebranndt said. “That’s kind of been what we stress for so long. Anybody can get up there and roll the ball down the lane and make a strike, but it’s how well can you concentrate and pick up spares when you need them, like in the ninth frame or 10th frame of a close game?

The coach said that’s an area where the team is currently stuggling. “We’re losing matches now because we’re not doing those things well. The biggest thing is they understand it and know it. That’s the first step is realizing what they’re doing wrong. They know how to fix it, but sometimes the mindset is, ‘I didn’t strike so the frame’s open.’

The Blue Devils have been missing last year’s top scorer, Jazmyn Willis, due to injury since the start of the season, and her return this year isn’t certain. Other bowlers have had to step up on the small team.

“It would be nice if she does come back,” Ross said. “Not having her is definitely a big reason we haven’t been able to win the tight matches. We’ve lost by only a couple pins. Those are the worst. We know if she was there, she’d definitely have helped.”

Ewing doesn’t have a lot of experience back. They lost three of their scoring bowlers.

“We have different personalities but they all come together to form one big happy team,” Ross said. “It is different from last season. We lost Kayla and Korin Ricketts to graduation and with Jazmyn out, it’s a big change.”

Freshman Sierra Reid is new to high school bowling. She’s been able to impact the team early. “She’s helped take care of Jazmyn’s absence,” Ross said. “She’s brought a lot of high games to the table.”

Senior Ruka Ahmed is in her first year of varsity after bowling for the JV a year ago. Senior Louisa Scozzaro hasn’t bowled in a couple of years, but her return has bolstered the team.

Senior Amelia Baffuto has been a four-year member of the program. Only Baffuto and Ross were bowling for the Ewing varsity a y“Being a junior is definitely more familiar,” Ross said. “I know how matches are structured. I’ve bowled in some of the same tournaments over the years. It puts less stress on the matches because I’ve been through it before.”

Ross has put her focus on keeping her marks for strikes and spares. Over the years, she’s figured out the direct impact of being able to do that well.

“With the experience, it helps,” Ross said. “Compared to my freshman year, I definitely missed a lot more spares which resulted in lower scores. I’ve had more time to practice with the team.”

Ross, who also plays tennis for Ewing, has put her time in to get more comfortable on a variety of lanes. She bowls regularly in season and more out of season than she ever did in order to develop her game. She got her start bowling in fourth grade in a league at Curtis Lanes.

“That’s when I started to see I enjoyed the sport,” she said. “I joined bowling club in middle school and then the high school team.”

The Ewing team has come together and is only a few pins away from being closer record-wise to their usual high expectations. Angebranndt appreciates how quickly the group came together.

“There’s good camaraderie,” he said. “They’re a lot more vocal. They talk to each other, they hang out with each other during the matches. Their spirits are always high. They never really get down on themselves, which is a good thing. It just seems that they’ve gotten closer to each other, which helps. Whether they’re bowling good or bad, if they’re staying positive with each other, it’s a bonus.”

The Blue Devils are hoping to push each other to a 13-5 finish. Their goal is to finish the year on a strong note, and to see each other improve down the stretch.

“We definitely try to help each other when we feel the other person wants the help,” Ross said. “We don’t force it upon each other. We give each other tips based on how they bowl if we think they’ll help. And we ask Coach Angebranndt.”

There’s no shortage of motivation with sectionals on the horizon. Ross is looking at the toughest competition day as a way to show her experience and improvements. Having been there in previous years is a benefit.

“I felt I could improve upon my scores,” Ross said. “Being at lanes we only go to for sectionals, it’s hard to figure out your marks in time to score well in the early games. I’m hoping since I’ve been there, I can pick up my scores this year.”

Olivia Ross remains a steady force for the Ewing girls, and a consistent influence as the Blue Devils look for a strong close to the year.

“We have to just keep picking up spares, making marks and bowl the best we can,” Ross said. “I think in the end we have a lot of personal goals we hope to achieve. As long as we try our hardest, that’s the most we can ask for in ourselves.”