By Jimmy Allinder
Each time Samantha Salzone enters a bowling alley, she is firmly convinced she’ll roll nothing but strikes.
However, the senior at Edison High School is well aware she competes in a sport that can be very unkind to those who have the slightest doubt that’s possible. If the battle of that rages in the mind can be won, Salzone says, good things will follow.
“A [positive] mental attitude can do wonders,” she said. “I try to follow the motto, ‘One ball, one frame and one game at a time.’ ”
Salzone, who leads her team with a 190 average, practiced what she preaches with a second-place finish at the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Individual Championships Jan. 19. Her 611 series qualified her for the step-ladder finals, where she finished runner-up to Lanasia Neal of South Plainfield High School.
Besides her accomplishments on the lanes, Salzone is an outstanding student. Her grade-point average is a weighted 4.7, which contributed to her being named the high school’s most outstanding winter female athlete when she was a junior. Based on how she’s performed on the lanes and in the classroom, Salzone has a strong chance of winning that accolade again.
Her high school coach, Tracie Smith, appreciates what Salzone has meant to a team that is a serious threat to win the GMC Team Championships, which begin Jan. 30.
“Sam is a hard-working and focused athlete who always gives her best,” Smith said. “I’ve watched her grow over the last four years as an athlete, student and person, and everybody at our high school is extremely proud of her.”
As one of the top bowlers in the GMC, the spotlight is shining brightly on Salzone, but most — if not all — of her success is a result of hard work that very few have observed.
“I’ve pretty much spent the last 13 years of my life at Brunswick Zone Carolier Lanes (now called Bowlero),” Salzone said. “I’ve learned a lot but probably the most important lesson is gaining an understanding that there’s more to bowling than simply rolling the ball.”
Developing a positive attitude isn’t a mentality that can be turned on like a light, Salzone said, but being confident that everything has been done to maximize her natural ability. Much of that comes from her mom, Trish, who introduced her to bowling.
“I have pictures when I was 3 of me holding a Bugs Bunny bowling ball,” she said. “My parents, uncles and aunts bowled, and naturally they wanted me to get involved.”
Salzone was formally introduced to the sport when she joined a Friday afternoon junior league at age 5, and she has continually bowled since then. Besides bowling for the high school team, she participates in the major high school league. Besides her parents, Salzone lists her coaches, Debbie Stein and Smith, and former teammate Kayla Johnson among those who have helped her throughout her bowling career.
Salzone plans to continue bowling in college, although she has yet to decide where that will be. Belmont Abby College in North Carolina has invited Salzone to become a member of the bowling team, Adelphi University has offered a partial scholarship and Fairleigh Dickenson University has granted a merit scholarship that will cover most of her tuition. Wherever she goes, Salzone plans to major in criminal justice and sociology.
Now that her senior year winds down and she is about to begin another chapter in her young life, she appreciates the enjoyment that bowling has provided. However, she understands even one game can be an emotional roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs, but she has learned to appreciate the highs and not dwell on the negatives.
“I try to listen to my coaches and teammates who constantly remind me to stay positive, and I also try to listen to the voice I hear in my mind: ‘Cut it out, you’ve got this,’ ” Salzone said.
If team statistics were kept at the girls’ Individual Qualifying finals, Edison would have won the title by a comfortable margin. In addition to Salzone’s second-place showing, Touri Holmes placed seventh, Victoria Johnson finished 12th, Fabriane Jean-Denis placed 16th and Samantha Osiadacz finished 19th.
Salzone’s 247 in the first game of the three-game qualifying round was high for the tournament, including the step-ladder finals. The other area bowler to finish in the top 20 was Bishop George Ahr High School’s Katie Eicher, who placed 10th.
John P. Stevens High School sophomore Cameron LaPlant parlayed a third-place finish in the GMC Boys’ Individual Qualifying Championships to win all three of his step-ladder matches and come away with the individual title Jan. 20.
LaPlant defeated James Stoveken of Woodbridge High School with a 218-206 victory in the championship match. The 269 he bowled in the semifinals when LaPlant knocked off Angelo Salici of South Plainfield High School was the high game for the championships.
Two other area bowlers placed in the top 20: John Hoban of Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen finished 10th, and Brian McAdams of J.P. Stevens placed 11th.