BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity Catholic came out almost unscathed as the Crusaders went 3-0 Saturday at Southeastern Community College to win the Southeast Iowa Superconference tourney.
HTC rolled past Iowa Mennonite Schools 25-10, 25-12, West Burlington 25-18, 25-11, and Van Buren 25-10, 25-20. The only loss for HTC may have been freshman setter Kassi Randolph to a left arm injury in the first set of the finals with Van Buren.
Randolph jumped to the floor on a dig with another Crusader and then was quickly rotated out by Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier who saw something was wrong. The facility trainer came over and evaluated Randolph, who stayed with the team through the championship match, but was iced on the elbow and shoulder after the match.
The Saturday matchups at SCC featured the top half of the Superconference teams that rolled out of Thursday’s pool play.
The Crusaders drew IMS and what that match was decided, Freesmeier had notched her 900th win of her career.
“I feel old. I think I’ve been around this game for a while,” Freesmeier said with a smile. “I’ve had awesome assistants and that’s the thing – we’re family and we’re a team. These kids build on each other year after year after year, so I’ve been very fortunate to have these kids and these coaches in the program.
HTC Athletic Director John Goetz said the number of wins is a testament to the program and the kids.
“I haven’t been around for 900, but probably 500. She’s as good leader as there is and gets a lot out of her kids,” he said.
After West Burlington dumped Central Lee in straight sets, the Crusaders took the floor against the Lady Falcons.
HTC trailed in the early going, but knotted the score at 5 on an ace by Taylor Boeding, then took the lead on a second Boeding ace at 6-5.
The Crusaders then went on a 5-1 run with Boeding at the line serving. She got a third ace in the run at 10-5, Eryn Anderson had a kill to make it 11-5 and then West Burlington’s Iliyah Moore had a kill to end the run. The Crusaders would extend the lead to 18-12 on a kill by Anderson. The Lady Falcon’s Sydney Marlow tried to breathe life into West Burlington’s chances with a couple kills, one at 18-13, but HTC pulled away and eventually snuffed out the game 25-18 with an ace by Anderson.
In the second game, West Burlington was able to hang around only in the early going. HTC senior Emily Box had six kills and block to go with a couple of points by sophomore Claire Pothitakis to give the Crusaders a 19-9 lead. The Falcons didn’t commit many errors in the set, but couldn’t keep the serve as HTC’s frontline of Box, Anderson, Pothitakis and Avery Hopper kept control of the net.
Pothitakis would get three kills in a row at points 22-24 and Anderson would wrap up the second set and match with an attack that found the middle of the floor.
Van Buren came to the finals after going into a third-set tiebreaker with Mediapolis before advancing and then had seven minutes to rest before facing off with HTC. The Crusaders had about 30 minutes between games as the Bulldogs and Warriors battled it out.
HTC took advantage of the fresher legs and roared out to 12-5 lead with four straight points, two from Anderson and two from Pothitakis. But all four kills were set up by the diving defense of Boeding, who hit the floor on all four of the points to keep the ball in play.
“I knew that had to pick up the tips and that we would help get a fast offense running. Then we could move the ball around to different parts of the net and get the big kills. It may look like I’m just throwing myself around, but it’s important for me to hang on to every point,” Boeding said.
Mya Lawlor then got hot from the service line. Teaming up with Box at the net, the two reeled off a 7-0 run with Box getting three kills and two blocks, while Lawlor put together three straight aces to put Holy Trinity up 23-7. Van Buren would make a little noise putting up three points before Box put the game away with a kill at 25-10.
Van Buren would get its wind in the second game running out to a 6-1 lead over the Crusaders, the deepest deficit HTC would see all night. Box got a block at 4-8 to cut the gap to four. An ace by Madison Bartholomew would extend the Warrior lead to six at 11-5, but HTC’s Anderson got a successful attack on the next service and then had two more with Maille Sheerin serving to cut the deficit to 9-12.
The Crusaders would tie it up at 13 in the middle of a 4-1 run when Pothitakis attacked from right outside hitters spot finding a spot in the middle of the Warriors defense.
HTC wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, but Van Buren put together their own 4-1 run forcing a time out by HTC holding just a one-point 21-20 lead. Box, who finished hitting 47-52 with 30 kills on the night, got HTC back on track with a point at 22-20. Van Buren wouldn’t score another point as Box finished the night off with two aces.
The 2017 Class 1A first-team, all-state hitter said playing against better competition and bigger front lines like Van Buren’s makes the team better prepared for the second half of the season.
“We came together and did really well,” Box said. “Van Buren and Mepo was a really good game. It was fun getting to play them again. Those big blocks – we’re going to see that later this year.”
HTC travels to Urbandale on Saturday for one of the larger tournaments of the year, an event that will test the girls current 44-set win streak.
“We’re looking forward to playing at Urbandale next weekend. We’ll play good teams up there and that’s good competition for us and helps us get ready for a run at state.”
Freesmeier said last year’s second place finish to New London in the tournament was a motivator for the girls.
“I didn’t have to put it out there, the kids put it out there themselves,” Freesmeier said. “They new what happened last year and it didn’t sit very well with them. We knew tonight was going to be a fun night. All the teams here were very good. IMS plays tenacious defense and we just kept pounding it at ’em. West Burlington is very good and an up-and-coming program, and with Van Buren we like the challenge of their big blocks.”
She said when Randolph got injured the team adjusted well. Randolph finished with a perfect 17-17 serving and had 14 digs
“Our kids stayed focused and got things done. Kassi went out late in game one, but our kids stepped up. Maille came in off the bench and did what she’s been doing all year. Hopefully Kassi’s alright.”
Boeding was 35-40 hitting with eight kills. She also went 29-30 serving with 10 aces and had 26 digs to lead the Crusaders from the back. Senior Elyse Pothitakis had 25 digs for HTC. The Crusaders travel to WACO on Thursday before heading to Des Moines for the Urbandale Invitational on Saturday.