BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The 4th-ranked HTC Crusaders fought off the tenacious defense of New London in a three-set sweep Monday night in girls volleyball action.
The Crusaders were coming off a 10-day break during the Tri-State Rodeo and took the court for only the second time this year and rolled to a 25-13, 25-21, 25-23 win. HTC’s other win was a three-set sweep of Danville back on August 11th.
The Tigers jumped five places in last week’s Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union rankings from 14 to 9 with a 9-1 record with their only loss coming at the hands of Davenport Assumption 0-2.
HTC Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier said the Crusaders knew New London was solid defensively and the girls would have to be patient.
“New London was defensively sound as we knew that they would be,” she said. “They’re game-ready and this is our match number two. I just think today we look at it and see where we need to work and we get better. But it’s just a matter of getting game-ready. We don’t play against each other in practice, we drill.”
Senior Erin Anderson got HTC going in the first game serving to a 10-1 run with senior Emily Box being able to overcome New London’s blocking scheme with five kills in the run. A serve that went left out ended the run. New London would outscore the Crusaders 7-5 over the next 12 points, but the Tigers would only score three of its first seven points offensively with the rest coming off Holy Trinity errors.
Anderson got back-to-back kills at 15-7 and 16-7 and Claire Pothitakis made it three in a row with her kill at 17-7. Holy Trinity would keep the 10-point gap through the first set with Box getting two more kills and a big block at 24-13. New London ended the game with a net error at 25-13.
New London rebounded to make the next two sets competitive. Box had a kill to start HTC up 1-0 but a long attack from senior Taylor Boeding tied it at one. The two teams traded points until a Tigers’ attack went long to give the Crusaders a 6-3 lead.
HTC would push that lead to 10-6 when Pothitakis got another kill from her outside post. Anderson would miss on her next serve, one of only two on the night by the Crusaders, and New London would then go on a 10-7 run that tied the set at 17 when the Tigers’ junior Addy Pry scored a kill from the center. New London would then take its first lead of the night when Anderson missed on an attack. Sophomore Katie Denning came back with a kill on the next point to even things back up at 18.
Anderson then recorded back-to-back aces to give HTC some breathing room at 20-18, but a defensive error and long attack from Denning tied it back at up at 20.
Box would re-enter on rotation and took things over with three kills in the next five points to give HTC the second set 25-21.
At 16-13, with Box on the sidelines in a rotation, Freesmeier chatted her up a bit.
“I just told her to be patient, do the little things and help the younger kids out,” Freesmeier said “She’s a competitor and she’s driven and sometimes she gets amped up. But geesh, she did great tonight with 19 kills in three matches – you can’t get better than that and she played some good back row, too.”
Box finished the night with 19 kills in 39 attacks with only three errors.
The third set was an extended affair. The Tigers would never have a lead in the set, but stayed within three points the entire way and got within one point seven different times and had one tie at 5-5. Pothitakis had two kills at 10-6 and 11-7, but the Tigers’ senior Kristen Rohdy ended a point for New London to get to 9-11. The two would trade points again until 15-13 when HTC got caught with four hits and the set was again within 1 at 15-14.
Rohdy erred on her next serve and then Box led the Crusaders on four straight capped by an Anderson kill at 19-14. New London would string together a 3-point run of its own to close the gap to 19-17, but Anderson would end another point at the net and kill the run at 20-17 HTC.
The Crusaders would keep a two to three-point lead until an error by Denning at the net closed the gap to 1 at 23-22. Anderson would get a kill on the next New London serve. The Tigers would counter to make it a one point, game, but Box ended the night with a kill at 25-23.
Freesmeier said she expected the match to be tough for scoring.
“I expected what they gave us. Box and Claire and Erin had some great shots and they dug ’em up and we knew that was going to happen. But those are the fun matches and the ones that get us ready going forward,” she said.
Pothitakis was second on the team in kills with 10 on the night. The sophomore is in her first year playing regularly with the varsity.
“Melissa was getting on us the week before rodeo to keep working hard together, and with Kassi (Randolph) being our new setter that has helped a lot, but it’s been hard adjusting from Maya (Rashid) being gone, but we’ve been doing okay so far,” Pothitakis said after the match.
Freesmeier said having her do well on the outside made it tough on the Tigers to throw up blocks.
“That’s a big thing for us to have an outside come and play like that in her debut,” she said. “We had three hitters to go at them and it was tough to keep that blocking defense in. Having her on the outside really helped us.”
She said the runs New London was able to get were a result of the Crusaders trying to do too much.
“When they got on a run, we were trying to do too much and we just needed to settle in and do what we need to do to keep them off balance.”
Randolph, just a freshman, finished with 24 assists on the night. Anderson led the Crusaders with 24-25 serving with four aces, seven digs, and a block. Taylor Boeding and Elyse Pothitakis led the Crusaders defensively with 14 and 12 digs, respectively. Box had four blocks.
Holy Trinity travels to Burlington Notre Dame on Tuesday before hosting Van Buren Thursday. They then travel to a Keokuk invitational on Saturday.