BETHALTO — Melanie Williams got emotional when asked how seniors Justin Simpson and Kennedy Rainwater have been valuable to the Granite City bowling team for four years.
“It’s hard for me to talk about,” the Granite City coach said. “It’s definitely hit home and it reminds me of why I decided to coach to begin with.”
When Williams took over the Granite City bowling program in 2012, Simpson and Rainwater were freshmen. Now, their high school bowling careers are about to come to an end.
“It’s very emotional for me because I had Kennedy and Justin since the beginning of my coaching career, which was four years ago, so I watched them grow,” Williams said. “I watched them accomplish things that they didn’t know that they can do. So I’m very honored to be here to watch them do that.”
The Warriors celebrated senior day on Tuesday against the Edwardsville Tigers at Airport Bowl. Simpson, Rainwater and seniors Raishon Bobo and Alex Tabor were honored after the match.
“I’ve been thinking about it all day, my last time bowling at home,” Simpson said. “It’s kind of emotional, but I had to focus on bowling and not worry about everything else.”
The Warriors finished with a split with Edwardsville, winning the girls' contest 2,178 to 2,051 and losing the boys' match 3,067 to 2,926. Simpson finished with a 607 series and Rainwater bowled a 434.
Bobo and Tabor competed in the junior varsity match and finished with three-game scores of 304 and 287, respectively.
“They were a lot of fun,” Williams said. “They were good to the team. They brought their spirits up and they brought the laughter out. It definitely helped the team and held them together.”
The Granite City boys' team has two more regular season matches to go before heading to Collinsville on Saturday to compete in the regional tournament. The Warriors bowl against Belleville West on Wednesday and Collinsville on Thursday, both on the road.
“We have to get past these two matches,” Simpson said. “After that my main focus is regionals. I’m going to work very hard on my game and spare shots. Focus is the main thing because I know that I’m a good bowler and I’m confident in myself and I just have to go out there and prove it to everybody else.”
Rainwater has one more home match to compete in. The Granite City girls' team wraps up its regular season on Jan. 19 against Alton at Airport Bowl. The Warriors also have road matches against Belleville West and Collinsville on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
“I think our girls can do whatever they set their minds to,” Rainwater said. “In our last tournament, we bowled a series of 820 and that’s something that we’re able to hit before. These girls can do it if they try their hearts out and do what they do, there’s no doubt in my mind that they can do it.”
Rainwater said she’s glad to have been part of the Granite City bowling team all four years.
“Melanie has helped me grow so much from what I’ve done and where I started,” the Granite City senior said. “I started here with a house ball. Here I am averaging a 150. It’s such an honor. I’m going to miss it greatly and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the world has got for me.”
Simpson missed a total of six spares. In the first game, he missed three spares in the first four frames. Then, Williams gave him a pep talk.
“She told me to calm down and relax and do what I do best and that’s bowl,” Simpson said.
After bowling a 202 in the first game and a 181 in the second, Simpson finished with a 224 in the third. He didn’t miss any spares in the final game.
“The lanes were tricky,” Simpson said. “It took me a while to figure it out. But I felt like in that third game, I came back and bowled a good game.”
Simpson, who is averaging a 210, qualified for sectionals and earned all-Southwestern Conference honors last winter. He plans to continue his bowling career at Lindenwood-Belleville next year.
“It’s amazing to see what Justin can do,” Williams said. “The past two years, he has put in so much dedication during in-season and off-season.”
Rainwater shot a 152 in the first game, a 139 in the second and a 148 in the third.A year ago, Rainwater was named to the all-conference team. This year, she’s one of the team’s top bowlers with a 153 average.
Williams said Rainwater has come a long way from her freshman season.
“I can see the potential in her,” she said. “She had it. She had the gift and I wanted to keep going with it.”
Simpson and Rainwater have practiced and competed in matches at Airport Bowl all four years. The Warriors moved their home matches to the Bethalto bowling alley after Bowland Lanes closed down in 2012.
“It’s nice,” Rainwater said. “Ever since Bowland closed, it was rough. It was rough having to come up here because you’re not exactly home. But you've got to make it a home. It’s not too bad. At least we’re getting to bowl. I’m just grateful that we’re able to come up here and have a bowling team and being able to participate in a sport that most people love.”
Simpson added, “We don’t get as much time to bowl because of the longer drive, but Airport does a great job accommodating us and I thank them for that. Thankfully, we have a home place to bowl at.”
Junior Ashley Heiman led the Warriors with a 497 in the girls' match. She bowled a 177 and missed just one spare in the first game.
Sophomore Ricky Hard was Granite City’s top performer in the boys' match, shooting a 643. He bowled a 235 and missed no spares in the third game.