If the Ewing High School girls bowling team could have only one senior, Raquel Sparano was an ideal pick.
Sparano was a vital member of the team for three years, and looked forward to the responsibilities that she inherited in her fourth year after the graduation of Brianna Jobst left a void at the top.
“I enjoyed being a senior on the team because I wanted to be able to lead the other girls,” said Sparano said, who was the only senior on the team this year.
“For the past three years that I’ve been on the bowling team, there have been other leaders that would guide me for what I needed to do throughout the matches and they would help me become a better bowler myself,” she said. “It was nice being able to spread what I know about the sport onto the other girls who are just coming up to the high school.”
Sparano has known only success with Ewing. The Blue Devils girls had won every regular-season match in the first three years of her career.
“Sometimes one of us will have an off day, but that’s when the rest of the team can pick each other up,” Sparano said. “When one of us is doing bad, it just pushes us to want to do better and we come together as a team and win.”
Her leadership was something that helped the Blue Devils retain their high standards even after replacing some key graduation losses. Ewing welcomed a freshman, Olivia Ross, and a new junior, Lindsey Wesner, to the varsity lineup. They joined a team that returned sophomore Amelia Baffuto, junior Korin Ricketts and Sparano.
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Sparano said it was refreshing to have new faces in addition to the old ones that she has known from past years of bowling.
“A freshman who came up and was a big asset to the team as well as a junior who came out for the first time this year,” Sparano said. “They were both very beneficial.”
Sparano led the way for the Blue Devils, who finally saw their winning streak snapped but still finished 16-2.
“Even though we weren’t undefeated as we have been for the past few years,” Sparano said, “we still had an amazing year. I made new friends with the varsity girls that came up this year and I had a really fun season hanging out with them.”
Sparano posted a high game of 230, was consistently the Blue Devils’ top bowler, and helped the team finish second in the BCSL Open and place fifth in the Central Jersey Group 2 sectional.
“Raquel Sparano, I knew she was going to step up and do well,” said Ewing boys and girls head coach Dave Angebranndt. “She’s a competitor. She has a great attitude and mindset for bowling, for sports in general. She kind of took the lead as like a player-coach to be there when I was over watching the guys or whatever it might be.”
Ewing still was a team that opponents dreaded facing, and they lived up to their tough reputation even as their winning stretch came to an end.
He added that he was surprised to see how well they bowled based on not knowing who was going to be there.
“I knew Raquel would be there, I knew Korin Ricketts would be there. I didn’t know who else would be there based on who I lost,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised to have Olivia Ross step up and bowl well, Amelia Baffuto bowled well as well as Lindsey Wesner. They all picked each other up. They were consistent throughout the year.”
Pennsauken and Pemberton were the only two teams that beat the Blue Devils this year. Ewing still was a team that opponents dreaded facing, and they lived up to their tough reputation even as their winning stretch came to an end.
“It’s an impressive streak,” Angebranndt said. “I don’t see why they won’t bounce back and be able to continue with it. In the past, they had three or four girls that were good. This year, we had two or three that I knew were going to be higher up average wise and then two or three that had to step up and raise their average from last year.
Angebranndt added that this is only his second year and he wasn’t really aware this was Sparano’s first season with a loss.
“I was impressed by it. You don’t see teams go undefeated,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment to say the least. We’ll see how they can bounce back and do next year.”
Sparano was thrilled to see the success continue as long as it did. Even with new bowlers in the lineup, the Blue Devils were able to remain an imposing program.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Sparano said. “I had confidence in our team. We get better every time that we practice. I wasn’t surprised that we were able to finish the way that we did.”
It took contributions from everyone to keep the standards up. While Ross was in her first year in the high school, Wesner was taking on a new sport. She decided to try bowling in the winter before her main sport in the spring.
“I’m a softball player, and I wanted to have fun,” said Wesner, a catcher for the EHS softball team. “I literally haven’t bowled before. It’s my first year.”
Wesner developed into a steady bowler who improved throughout the season. She bowled a high game of 180, her 179 was the high game of the BCSL Open, and she was thrilled to be able to help her new team that had established quite a tradition.
“I knew a lot of the girls from the past years and they were phenomenal, so I was really nervous,” Wesner said. “I didn’t want to do bad. If I was on JV, it would have been different, but I was on varsity. You have to do everything. It would be frustrating when I wouldn’t do as well, but the girls were so supportive. It was just so much fun.”
Sparano was impressed by the development of Wesner, who followed in the footsteps of her brother, Jimmy, who had bowled with Angebranndt.
Wesner picked up the sport quickly in her first year. Her strength helped her bring power to her game, and she focused on improving her mental approach and finding consistency through repetition.
“For me, it wasn’t even the skill,” Wesner said. “It was mostly the anxiety. I’d go with Raquel Sparano and I’d go and bowl for fun. Our parents and family were in a league. We’d go watch them together and bowl afterward. We just practiced.”
The practice paid off with steady improvement. Wesner will play softball in the spring, but she’s already thinking about an encore season of bowling next winter.
“I can’t wait,” said Wesner, who will be a senior along with Ricketts. “I’m already practicing. I want to be the best I can. I want to bring home a win for this school. We worked our butts off. We deserve it.”
‘I’m proud of the way we were able to grow closer together throughout the season.’
Ewing will have all but one bowler back, but filling the void left by Sparano won’t be easy. Sparano is looking into college options, and she is looking to continue bowling beyond high school. It’s not easy for her to leave the Ewing team either.
“To be a part of this program has been great,” she said. “It’s definitely my favorite activity to do at the high school. The people are all nice and it’s fun to spend hours at all the matches together and it’s just a great environment overall. I really enjoyed being a part of the program.”
Sparano contributed to the program’s strong reputation and built a legacy of excellence. Her final year was important to set a leadership example for years to come.
“I’m proud of the way we were able to grow closer together throughout the season,” Sparano said. “We all became really close friends. I feel that helped how we bowled together because we were able to pick each other up when we were down.”
Sparano is optimistic that the Blue Devils can bowl just as well next year without her. There will be a veteran group back and expectations that drive them to remain one of best in the state.
“All the girls on the team that I’m leaving behind, they have so much skill,” Sparano said. “I have no doubt that they’ll be able to put on these winning streaks. Lindsey and Korin, they’re going to be seniors, they’ll definitely be able to lead the team without me.”