Whether from nearby at Highland Park Bowl, or from the big bowling alley in the sky, Amber Granzow's biggest fans were treated to a show like few others in state history Saturday afternoon.
While the Sterling senior's 578 series in the morning session of the Panther Invitational in Moline was hardly chopped liver, the hard-throwing lefty came up prime rib in the afternoon. Her 780 series – comprised of games of 244, 257 and 279 – is the seventh-best in IHSA history.
After being congratulated by her teammates and opponents, she went straight to the gallery behind the lanes to hug her parents, Tim and Ronda, as well as her sister and former Sterling standout Kelly.
"Then I went to [Sterling coach Dennis] Black, and he said, 'I want a hug. I need it. I deserve it,' " Granzow said before practice at Paone's Blackhawk Lanes on Monday.
While she couldn't hug her grandfather, Kurt Granzow, she dedicated the performance to his memory. Thirty-six years ago, he became the first bowler inducted into the Sterling-Rock Falls Bowling Hall of Fame. He passed away about 2 weeks ago, and Sunday would have been his 90th birthday.
While Amber doesn't vividly remember bowling with her grandpa or grandma, Audrey, she cherishes all the time spent at their home.
"Just being with him was the best," Amber said. "At Christmas time, we were always at their house. He was just a fun person to be around. He could always make us laugh."
So when she was disappointed to not have caught a whole lot of breaks Saturday morning, she refocused over the lunch break by thinking about her grandpa and the gift she so badly wanted to give him.
"One of the things that really pushed me was I just kind of wanted to do something in the honor of his birthday," Granzow said. "I tried the weekend he passed away, but I didn't do well. Last weekend, I wasn't that great, so I knew I needed to make up for it."
Suffice to say she made up for it and then some.
For the most part Saturday afternoon, Granzow pounded her mark on the ninth board. But the couple of times she missed to the left, her ball came back to the pocket with purpose. She couldn't help but suspect a little divine intervention was at play.
"I kinda wonder," Granzow said. "There were a couple where I pitched it out a little too far, but it came in nicely, which I was shocked about. My ball does have a lot of hook, but I didn't expect it to do that much. I threw it almost … to the gutter."
On Nov. 22, 2011, then-Sterling senior Heather Wolf bowled a three-game series of 819, the second-best in state history. Now a freshman and a member of the upstart women's bowling team at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, she drove down to Moline for Saturday's event. Granzow displaced Wolf's 751 series for second-best in Sterling history.
She also set a Granzow family record which Kelly will undoubtedly aim for during this, her senior year at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. It's pretty commonplace for former Golden Warriors to attend their kid sister's meets.
"The groups I've had have just been fantastic," Black said. "I'm fortunate to have the kind of talent I've had."
Black spoke briefly with Granzow during the morning session Saturday about her release point and hitting her mark. There wasn't a word to be said in the afternoon.
"I sat there and kept watching her hit the same spot, with the same release," Black said. "She would just hold it there and watch it go into the pocket. She was just like a model statue."
Granzow's Freeze ball hits the pocket at about 17 miles per hour, thanks to her big backswing. Whereas she had to rein it in during the Rock Island Invitational on Nov. 24 at Highland Park Bowl, the oil's condition allowed Granzow to use her typical backswing Saturday.
And it was something to behold.
"She throws with strong speed … great speed," Black said. "When she throws with accuracy, it's a beautiful thing to watch that ball just break into the pocket and just shatter those pins. I wish my ball would do that."
As her teammates, friends and family near and far away cheered, she did her best to follow every bowler's mantra during a potentially monstrous series.
"I tried really hard not to think about it," Granzow said. "But it was still in my head that, 'You've got this going. Don't mess this up.' "
Granzow family business
• Grandfather, Kurt, became the first bowler inducted into the Sterling Rock Falls Bowling Hall of Fame in 1976
• Parents, Tim and Ronda, both bowl in two leagues – Tim bowls Thursdays, Ronda Fridays, and they bowl together on Saturdays
• Sister, Kelly, is a senior and a member of the women's bowling team at St. Ambrose, which Amber plans to attend next fall