Chelsea Olson has been bowling for a while.
A mathematics education major at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the 19-year-old from Goldsboro is currently a member of the Saturday morning youth league at Lumberton Bowling Center — and she has been a consistent 170-plus bowler.
On Feb. 25, Olson arrived as she often does — just in time to maybe roll one or two practice balls and then jump right into the competition. Except there would soon be something different about this day — and especially that first game.
Olson stepped on the deck for her first ball and went through all of her usual sound mechanics. The calm set-up included getting her fingers in the ball just right, taking her stance near the second row of dots, bending her knees, cradling the ball next to her right hip and looking at her mark on the lane.
Then she went into motion.
As always, it was a slow, smooth delivery with the exact same follow-through Olson has done a million times.
The ball spun down the edge of the right-side gutter, slowly started to bend to the left and settled nicely in the pocket, sending the pins into a tizzy and putting an “X” on Olson’s scoresheet.
Aside from the high fives from her two teammates — Hunter Edkins and Cheyenne Stahnke — nobody much paid attention. Yet.
It’s always nice to open a game on the lanes with a strike. But it also puts just a sliver of stress on the second frame, because nobody wants to follow a first-frame strike with an open.
Olson repeated her first-frame set-up, approach and delivery to perfection and got the same result. Once again, high fives from teammates. Not much else. Lots of bowlers get two straight.
When you talk with most bowlers worth their store-bought shoes, ball carrier and rosin bag, they will tell you right off that three straight strikes — commonly known as a turkey — is a huge accomplishment and can vault the score ahead quickly.
In her third frame Saturday, Olson was a machine. Set-up, approach and delivery were a mirror-image of the first two frames. So was the result. She had her turkey, which was received by a few more high fives and a mom in the crowd who just had to mimic a turkey sound.
The pressure had to be building, because a fourth straight strike — whether at the start of a game or anywhere during it — is a big deal. But Olson seemed oblivious to any pressure. She simply did what she had been doing right along, and BLAMMO! The pins seemed to explode at the force of her ball crashing through the pocket.
The screen above exclaimed “HOME RUN!” in bright colors and showed four balls crossing home plate.
Olson had a slightly more serious look on her face when she stepped on the deck for the fifth frame. And there was a noticeable hush behind her among the other bowlers and those watching. But nothing changed for Olson, as she rolled another ball that looked just like her first four and produced another solid strike.
Halfway through with nothing but strikes. Now there were high fives and a smattering of clapping from the adults watching. All Olson could do was smile and shrug her shoulders. She was simply in a groove.
Nobody dared say a word to Olsen before she stepped up on the deck for her sixth shot — much like baseball players refuse to say anything to a pitcher who has a no-hitter through five innings.
Most of those who were watching that sixth frame wouldn’t have taken anything away from Olson’s effort had she left a 10-pin or even drove her ball through the nose and left a 7-10 split. They still would have applauded and showered her with kudos. But that’s not what happened, because her ball pounded the pocket again and sent every pin scattering. Six straight.
There is a saying that claims sevens are lucky, and Olson probably gave that some thought as she watched her seventh ball start to bend toward the middle of the lane. Those watching held their breath and some realized the ball was hooking a tad too much. It still caught the headpin, but on the Brooklyn side — and sent every pin flying for her seventh straight “X.”
There was an audible sigh of relief from the crowd that was gathering behind lanes 23 and 24 — and Scott McLean, owner of LBC, was slowly moving east from the desk toward those lanes to get a better look. In his hand was the Bowling Center’s iPad.
There was no mystery in the eighth frame, as Olson once again executed a perfect shot, found the right pocket and blistered the pins for eight straight. The high fives were a bit harder and the applause a bit louder.
If there is one frame most will remember that morning, it may be the ninth. Olson’s set-up, approach, delivery and follow-through were immaculate. The ball twirled down the right side, began its bend toward the middle and buried itself into the pocket. KABOOM!
Except there was one pin that somehow got completely missed. The eight-pin stood stubbornly glaring back at Olson and those who were holding their collective breaths. And then, from out of nowhere, a rolling pin found its way to the left and barely toppled the standing pin. Nine straight.
Now McLean was behind lanes 23 and 24 with the iPad held high, training it on Olson as she started her 10th frame to capture the moment. First ball is perfect and bingo … strike. Second ball is just as perfect and badda-bing … strike. One more to go.
You know, this is the part in the story of the Mighty Casey where the slugging batsman lets down the Mudville Nine by striking out — which is exactly what Olson, to the delight of every warm body in the building, also did. Her 12th ball did everything right and crushed the pins to complete a perfect 300 game.
According to McLean, Olson is the first female ever to roll a 300 game at Lumberton Bowling Center. Yes, I said EVER. For that accomplishment, Olson will get a nice ring from the USBC … something she will surely cherish the rest of life whether she rolls a second 300 or not.
Olson finished the day with a nice 611 series (really, who cares what her next two games were?) and said her next item on the bowling bucket list is a 700 series. She took a nice swipe at that one week later with a 235-233-190 for an impressive 658 series.
If there was one blemish on Olson’s 300 morning, it’s that her boyfriend Ryan wasn’t able to be there. But he, her parents and hundreds of others have viewed that 10th frame on the LBC’s Facebook page.
Thanks for the thrill, Chelsea.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.