BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
OTTUMWA – Holy Trinity Catholic’s Mya Lawlor spent most of the last season and part of this season in a knee brace. She said nothing was going to stop her this year from going back to the state tournament in her senior year.
In Tuesday night’s three-set win over East Union at Ottumwa’s Evans Middle School, Lawlor helped serve up the Crusaders’ ninth straight trip to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state volleyball tournament on Wednesday Nov. 7 at Cedar Rapids’ U.S. Cellular Center. Third-ranked Holy Trinity (35-5) will take on sixth-seed Montezuma (29-9), who’s ranked 7th in the state and knocked off New London in three sets in the night cap in Ottumwa.
Holy Trinity will be the 3rd seed in the Class 1A bracket with Gehlen Catholic No. 2 and top-ranked Janesville No. 1 at the top of the bracket.
Lawlor went a sparkling 37-38 serving in the 25-10, 25-11, 25-5 win over East Union in the Region 8 Class 1A final. A whopping 10 of the 37 serves Lawlor converted were aces as she executed almost perfectly head coach Melissa Freesmeier’s serve calls. The Crusaders as a team only missed on two serves on the night. Senior Eryn Anderson was 12-of-12 serving and senior Emily Box was 9 of 9 from the line with a couple aces. Lawlor also led the Crusaders defensively with 13 digs.
“Serving was my main focus for this match,” Lawlor said after the match. “It helps us a lot by keeping them out of their system which helps getting us points.”
With the Crusaders rushing out to a 3-1 lead on a kill by Emily Box, Lawlor took over at the line and sent the Crusaders on a 14-point run, including three aces, moving the ball everywhere on the court Freesmeier called. At 9-1 Lawlor, serving from the right side, dropped an arcing serve in front of three Eagles that landed on the line about three feet past the net on the left side, forcing an immediate East Union time out.
In the run, HTC only scored a point on four of the serves while the Eagles scrambled to figure out how to get the ball back in play. A kill by East Union senior Rakenzy Prior stopped the bleeding at 16-2. The Eagles, who were whistled for more than a dozen double hits on the night, suffered another to give HTC a 17-3 lead. East Union would put together a 4-0 run late in the set, but it was too little too late. Junior Alissa Weinkoetz got three kills in a row highlighted by a push tip at 21-9, but HTC would run off 4-1 capped by a kill from Box to end the set.
It was more of the same in the second set with HTC rushing out to a 9-2 lead when senior Taylor Boeding hit her third kill of the second set. East Union’s Megan Mitchell got a kill to pull the Eagles within six at 9-3. At 11-5 Holy Trinity would outscore East Union 10-4 with a wicked attack by Anderson that found the right line 3/4 of the way down the court. Box would use a little finesse on the next point with a push that found the wood, and then East Union committed errors on five of the next seven points, including three double hits.
Box would register a kill and a block at 20-9 and 21-9. East Union would get a point on Lawlor’s only service miss of the night at 22-10 and the Crusaders would get a Box kill at 24-11 to take the second set.
The third set was all Holy Trinity as the Crusaders jumped out to a 4-1 lead on another Eagles double hit. With Lawlor serving again, HTC ripped off 15 straight points, including five aces, as once again, Freesmeier directed and Lawlor executed. In the run, Box and Boeding each had two kills, and a big double block from Box and Claire Pothitakis were the only points off rallies for HTC. Pothitakis got another kill at 19-3 with the set completely out of hand for East Union. Anderson threw in a couple aces and an attack that went long from East Union ended the match.
Freesmeier said the double hits are something that creeps up as the matches move toward the state tournament, but said she expected the shift and HTC stayed out of trouble.
She said the team executed the game plan Tuesday night very well.
“We executed our game plan and that was to keep them guessing on the serves,” she said. “We knew if we served aggressively tonight that we could get them out of system and our offense could get working, and that’s exactly what happened.”
She said the Crusaders scored a lot more on serving than she expected, but said being able to hit on different service angles will make it tough for other teams to set up offenses at state. And that will be the theme of practices leading up to the state tourney.
“We just keep working and doing the things we’ve been doing. Maybe quicken up the game a little defensively and we can do that with different things, but we’re going up to there to win in the first round. There’s a lot of energy out there. We’re where we want to be and we’re going to keep pushing.”
Senior Elyse Pothitakis said the tournament is a great experience and she’ll be more confident and relaxed in her final year at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“Always state is top competition that’s why they’re there. It’s always difficult because they have big hitters. But a lot of handling that comes with experience,” she said. “I’m a lot more relaxed compared to my freshman year. That year I was so nervous because I didn’t really know what it meant at that time. Now I know what a big deal that is and how important is.”
Boeding said a lot of people think the return trip to state is becoming tradition for Holy Trinity, but she said it takes commitment and hard work to get back each year.
“A lot of people say for the school, it’s tradition going back nine years. But every year we go back to state, we work our butts off all year to achieve our goals,” Boeding said.
“We know that at state we’re going to see teams that match our intensity and might even be higher intensity, so we have to step up our game in communication, offense, and serving and all the fundamentals we have to perfect to succeed up there.”
Box agreed that some work still needs to be done.
“We’re going to see closer matches and we’re going to have to finish in those matches. There were a couple times tonight where we let a couple game points go,” she said. “We’re not going to see 10 and 15-point cushions at state, so next week we’re going to really have to work on finishing.”
Anderson said the anticipation for the tournament play will be at high level again this year.
“You still get the same butterflies but it’s still an amazing feeling and it never gets old. We know what to expect. We’re one of the most experienced teams there.”
“It won’t be a cake walk. There will be some tough competition there, but I think we just have to come into practice this week with confidence and work our butts off everyday.”
Box led the Lady Crusaders with a perfect 19-19 serving with 11 kills, six in the first set. Boeding was 17-17 attacking with eight kills. Kassie Randolph and Bailey Hellweg combined for 15 assists.