BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BLOOMFIELD – It was deja vu all over again Thursday night for the Holy Trinity Catholic Crusaders.
The girls in blue put up 25-9, 25-9, 25-9 wins over Seymour to advance to the Region 8, Class 1A finals Tuesday against East Union at Evans Middle School. The game had an earlier start time of 6 p.m. East Union has won five in a row and knocked off Southeast Warren 3-1 in the bottom half of the regional bracket Thursday. Southeast Warren took five sets from the Eagles without a loss in the regular season.
But the Crusaders were busy jumping all over the Lady Warriors in all three sets of a match that lasted less than an hour.
Senior Mya Lawlor and Bailey Hellweg kick started the night pushing the Crusaders to a 5-1 lead and then missed her only serve of the night as Seymour’s defense had trouble adjusting to Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier’s placement calls. Lawlor went a sparkling 26-27 serving with six aces on the night.
Lawlor said her serving was the thing she wanted to work on most in this, her senior year. Several of her serves on the night were arch serves that just cleared the net in the front row.
“This season that has been the worst thing I’ve had to work on. So whenever she gives me a short spot, I really have to focus,” Lawlor said.
The Crusaders kept the Lady Warriors at an arm’s distance through the set, but had cut the lead to 8-4 when senior Taylor Boeding went long on an attack, but came back for a side out with a kill on the next point. Sophomore Katie Denning got a kill from her outside hitter spot to push the lead to six, but then HTC would race off on a 12-3 run capped by a double block with Claire Pothitakis and senior Emily Box on the left side to give HTC a comfortable 23-8 lead.
With Seymour’s Acey Jellison serving, Box was all over the place in the middle of the court in a five-side rally and the senior ended the point with a mid-net kill to give a 24-9 lead. A defensive error from the Warriors ended the set.
Seymour jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the early going of the second set with a kill from Jellison to open the set and an attack that went long from Pothitakis. A Warrior swat at the net went deep left and then, at 1-2 with Lawlor at the service line again, the Warriors got into their offense and had a set at the net, but Box went up and knocked the ball out of the set to an open spot to steal the point. Box finished with 14 kills on 34-of-36 hitting in the match.
HTC was then off to the races with a 15-4 run highlighted by four Box smashes and a kill from junior Avery Hopper at 11-5. At 17-6 senior Elyse Pothitakis went completely horizontal in the back row to dig up an attack. Several other Crusaders, including seniors Taylor Boeding and Katie Scoville, also made full-on dives at hard hit balls. The defensive ramp up didn’t go unnoticed by Freesmeier.
“I thought we did some great things defensively, and that’s at the net and in the back row,” she said. “Our kids were so consistent tonight all the way around. That’s what we’ve been looking for all year around and I know they have it. They just need to believe in themselves. That was the best team effort we put out this year.”
Lawlor then finished out the second set with two aces, with some help from Box who had a block for a point and two kills to put the set away.
In the third set, Seymour couldn’t getting anything going, trailing by as much as 14-3 in the early going. A kill by Eryn Anderson, who finished with seven on the night going 12-13 at the net, put HTC up 15-5. Boeding countered with another kill on the next point and then freshman Kassi Randolph threw in an ace to push the lead to 17-5. The Crusaders would then go an 8-4 run highlighted by three straight kills from Box, Boeding, and Claire Pothitakis to go up 22-8.
Lawlor pitched an ace on the next point and a couple of Seymour errors wrapped up the match.
Box said the Crusaders wanted to come in with the same mindset they’ve had in practice all week.
“Tonight we knew we had to all come in with the same intensity,” she said. “In practice we worked on staying up and not accumulating the errors. Tonight we had to work on that and we stay hyped up and we just had a lot of energy and we played very well.”
She said the defensive effort was crisp and there were some great plays, but they still need to work on some things.
“We played very well on defense considering when the ball was hit to us, but we can do better on the little things like picking up tips and things like that.”
Freesmeier said this was the type of game the girls needed in preparation for the regional final Tuesday.
“They gained some confidence tonight and it was just a big big night for everyone. It was nice to see that team click and come together. That’s the team we see at practice every night.”
Boeding finished the night going 19-21 with seven kills. She was also 8 of 8 serving with six digs on defensive mode. Kassie Randolph had 14 assists on the night to lead HTC.
HTC moves to 36-3 on the year and is one game away from another trip to the Class 1A State Tournament in Cedar Rapids.