BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – With Santa and some elves on hand for the state volleyball tournament send off at Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary school Wednesday afternoon, the Crusaders were looking for a little magic as they headed to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
The Crusaders, behind junior Emily Box, the top hitter in the state, worked some magic of their own as they moved onto the state semifinals with a three set win over Starmont 25-17, 25-21, 25-17.
HTC now faces top-ranked Janesville at 6 p.m. tomorrow in the semi-finals. Janesville has knocked HTC from the state tournament the past two years.
Holy Trinity never trailed in the match with the 4th-ranked Stars.
“We had some first game jitters, but that’s normal at state,” Box said. “We just had to stick together. We watched game tape of them and we knew they didn’t put a block up and that’s good for me.”
Box was able to roam the net free in the first game with eight kills, including four in a 5-2 run that put HTC up 19-12 in the first game.
Junior Eryn Anderson opened the match with an ace and the Crusaders worked the tandem that’s made them successful all year, which is Maya Rashid set to a Box kill.
The Crusaders pushed out to a 6-4 lead in the first game but an Isabel Johanns kill brought the Stars to within one at 6-5. With Box rotated into the back row, Anderson stepped up with two big kills and junior Taylor Boeding added another to give the Crusaders a four-point cushion 10-6.
Anderson said when Box rotates back it’s her job to try and get the kill, but keep the point moving.
“When it’s my turn to be in the front. I don’t think my role is to get a kill every time, but the team is confident in coming to me when she’s in the back,” Anderson said.
The Stars wouldn’t get much closer in the first game than four points with HTC pushing the lead to eight at 23-15 before Box landed a kill to give the Crusaders game one 25-17.
Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier put Box to work again at the front of game two and Box put four kills and a block away to put HTC up 6-2 in the early going. Then Starmont Coach Robert Goedken went to a rare tactic and switched to a block on Box, but Box was able to find room around it most of the night.
“We just told her to keep going after the big hits,” Freesmeier said, “We told her to go around it and even over it and she was able to be successful doing that.”
HTC kept a 3 to 4 point advantage through the second game with Samantha Hoenig rippong off five straight service points to extend the lead to 20-15, but the Stars went on a 6-3 run to close the gap, forcing Freesmeier to call a timeout.
“I just said, ‘Hey, let’s get a pass and get it to Box,” Freesmeier said. Box hit a kill on the next play to make it 24-21 and Mya Lawlor served for the game 25-21.
Game three was the same trouble for Starmont. Anderson again started with an ace and then she and Box combined for four kills to give HTC a 6-4 lead. Hoenig was again stellar from the service line and put away five straight including an ace to give the Crusaders a 10-5 lead.
HTC may have sensed the win coming because the next two kills from Boeding and Anderson went long and Starmont switched to a dump on their kills to catch an overaggressive Crusader defense. They were able to close the gap to 12-9 and 13-10, but again the Crusaders turned to Box who had three kills in the next four points and HTC had a 16-11 lead.
Starmont wouldn’t get much closer and called timeout at 21-15, but the hard-hitting Crusaders kept the lead and pushed it to seven 23-16. Anderson got her fourth ace of the night to put HTC up 24-16 and Holy Trinity closed the match on the next point.
Rashid said the chemistry was very good in the win and she didn’t see a whole lot of jitters from the team.
“We knew we had to play together. We did everything well tonight and this may sound really bad, but I didn’t have nerves tonight. We just played the way we are capable of playing and I was having a great time,” she said.
Boeding said it’s just an honor to play in the tournament.
“We certainly don’t take this for granted. This is just awesome to be a part of.”
She said Thursday’s game with Janesville will be the third time in three years and it will be important for her team to listen and play together.
“We’ll have to play our game and do the little things that coach is always telling us about to win tomorrow night.”
Box finished with 25 kills on 48 attacks for a 52% efficiency. Anderson had 11 kills on 24 attacks and Boeding had 5 kills on 21 attacks. Rashid led the way with 39 assists on the night and Mya Lawlor had 26 digs to lead HTC on defense. Box, Madison Mohrfeld, Rashid, and Anderson each had two blocks.
Starmont’s Macy Mommer led the Stars with nine kills. Hayley Goedken and Madilyn Vaske each had eight.
Starmont High School out of Arlington play in the WaMaC conference. Starmont came into the tournament with a record advancing to the state tournament with a three-set win over Iowa Valley, 25-19, 25-18, 25-9 in Region 6 action. The Stars didn’t drop a set in the regionals.
Janesville swept East Mills in three straight 25-10, 25-12, 25-19 in an affair that lasted just under an hour. Janesville and HTC will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday on court one at the U.S. Cellular Center.