BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The beat goes on….and the beat goes on.
The Holy Trinity Catholic volleyball team is marching to a steady tempo of wins, stacking up five more in less than six hours at the Holy Trinity Classic Monday night.
The Crusaders still have yet to drop a set on the season rolling through the Monday eight-team tournament with two set wins over Winfield-Mt. Union, Danville, Mount Pleasant, Fort Madison, and a 21-17, 21-17 win over a pesky Central Lee in the finals to hoist the trophy.
The Crusaders were ranked 4th in Class 1A in this week’s Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union volleyball rankings and have gone 13-0 since the start of the season racking up wins over state-ranked 1A New London, 2A Van Buren, and now 3A Fort Madison. The girls have won 28 straight sets, which is the most to start a season since 2016 when they won 34 straight sets and ended up in the state championship against Janesville.
Fort Madison struggled in pool play Monday night falling to Central Lee in the Silver pool’s first match of the evening 14-21, 21-17, 17-19. The Hounds then rebounded to beat Keokuk in three sets 15-21, 21-11, and 15-7 in the tiebreaker. They also beat Wapello 21-11, 21-6 in pool play to advance to meet Holy Trinity in the semifinals.
Holy Trinity made their way through pool play with 21-10, 21-10 wins over Winfield-Mt. Union and Danville and a 21-14, 21-14 win over Mt. Pleasant.
In the first set with crosstown rival Fort Madison, the Hounds jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on serving by senior Olivia Williams. Junior Jillian Wiseman had two quick kills at 1-0 and 2-0 to try and set a tone for the game against the big block of HTC’s Emily Box and Eryn Anderson. Box can set a tone as well and did so to bring the Crusaders roaring back with three kills in four points to cut the Fort Madison lead to 4-3. Back and forth errors at the net and a kill by Anderson tied the set at 6.
The Crusaders would go up 10-7, but the Bloodhounds came back to knot it at 10 on a Wiseman block. Fort Madison would get one more tie at 11 and then would relinquish the lead for the rest of the set as the Hounds committed six hitting errors over the next eight points to put Holy Trinity in the driver’s seat 18-13. Junior Avery Hopper, who drew special praise from head coach Melissa Freesmeier, had a kill to end the set 21-13.
“We’re really deep this year and it’s nice to go to the different kids and see what happens when we’re able to use her like we did against taller teams like Van Buren and then tonight against Fort Madison,” Freesmeier said.
Holy Trinity left little doubt in the second game, running away with a 21-9 win.
FMHS Head Coach Kent Bailey said the Bloodhounds struggled with errors they usually don’t see often.
“I think we’ve got some different things happening with the kids,” Bailey said. “A couple of them weren’t feeling great tonight and it showed. We have the capability to play better than that and our kids understand that. There are nights you’re on and nights you’re off and unfortunately this was a night we were off.”
Against Central Lee, Bailey said the match got away from the Hounds in the tiebreaker.
“We made a couple of uncharacteristic errors that we really haven’t made a lot of, and gave away points that we thought we had won. We had the chance to win that match and we would have been playing Danville instead of Holy Trinity in the semifinals,” Bailey said.
The championship match against the Lady Hawks looked to be a short-lived affair as the Crusaders raced out to an 18-6 advantage. But Central Lee got a big block from sophomore Mya Merschman to get things going.
Central Lee would go on a 7-1 run with Merschman collecting two kills while HTC got mired in some defensive errors. With the gap closed to 19-12, freshman Kassi Randolph ended the first Lady Hawk run with a nifty fake set that found the floor for a side out. But senior Taylor Boeding had an attack go long to start another Central Lee 4-1 run capped by a block from senior Kennedy Mercer at 20-17.
Box would end the first game on a kill on Central Lee’s service to end it 21-17.
The second game of the title match had HTC out 5-0 before sophomore Abby Wellman got in a kill to make it 5-1. The Lady Hawks then went on a 6-2 run, mostly on serves by senior Kaylynn Summers including an ace to get Central Lee within one at 6-5. Scoring would go back and forth until Box got called for a line error under the net at 13-12 HTC. Merschman would get a block and kill in back-to-back points to give Central Lee its first lead of the night at 14-13.
Katie Denning would get a kill from the outside to tie it back up on the next service point and then the Crusaders went on a roll outscoring Central Lee 7-3 the rest of the way with sophomore Claire Pothitakis getting the final attack to find the floor from the right side of the HTC offense for a 21-17 win.
Anderson said the depth of this year’s squad is making the season fun and team stronger than previous years.
“I think, all around, this year is one of our strongest years since we won the state tournament in 2014,” she said. “We have a really deep bench and our seniors, and the underclassmen, too, work really hard every day. So I think us coming out strong like this, we’re gonna just get better.”
She said upcoming tournaments like the conference tournament and the Urbandale tournament will really test the Crusaders.
“Urbandale will probably be our toughest competition. Up there we’ll play Western Christian and other big schools and Southeast Polk in our bracket. We’re looking forward to that because we need to play teams like that, but I think conference will be tough matchups as well.”
Freesmeier said the girls were pushed a couple times Monday night, but the adversity is good.
“Our kids just all stepped up. They won this tournament and beat two good teams in Fort Madison and Central Lee,” Freesmeier said.
“Every night we step on the court we’re gonna have a fight, so I like to see what they can do when they get pushed and tonight we were pushed. At the end of the day, they stayed calm and got the wins. We get it competition every night and I just love it.”