BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – After a first set that left Holy Trinity Catholic fans on their seats, the Crusaders settled in to cruise to a three-set win over Montezuma to advance to the semifinals of the Class 1A State Volleyball tournament.
The 3rd seeded Crusaders knocked off the 7th seeded Bravettes 25-22, 26-24, and 25-17 to advance to the semifinals where they’ll face the No. 2 seed LeMar Gehlen Catholic (30-4) who downed East Mills in three sets in the opener at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first set with senior Mya Lawlor serving and got back-to-back kills from senior Emily Box and sophomore Claire Pothitakis to open the set.
Senior Mya Pargeone got a kill to get the Bravettes on the board and then Montezuma came rushing back with a 4-1 run with a big block and a kill in back-to-back rallies from junior Shateah Wetering. Wetering, who’s verbally committed to play hoops for the University of Iowa, finished with 12 kills on 36 attacks.
Box got a kill to give the Crusaders a one-point cushion at 5-4, but the Bravettes went on another run, this time going up by 3, when Waverly Roorda put up a block to give Montezuma a 9-6 lead. Holy Trinity crept back to within one and two points and got a kill from Pothitakis to pull HTC to within one at 11-12. Wetering then took over at the net to push the lead to four with three kills through HTC’s front line to force a timeout down 11-15.
Out of the break, Montezuma suffered a net violation error for a sideout and then Box had a kill and went to the service line where she got three straight points with two attacks from the Bravettes’ front line that went long.
Riley Gatton, the leading hitter for the Bravettes, had a couple sneaky placements for kills to push the lead to 18-15. Two consecutive errors, including a net error, brought Holy Trinity even at 19-all. Freshman Kassi Randolph got a kill dumping the ball over Wetering on the left side to give HTC its first lead since 5-4 at 20-19. The two squads would tie up again at 21 and then Eryn Anderson got a big block from the left side that fell over the Bravettes’ front line for a 22-21 lead. A net error at 23-21 forced a Montezuma timeout. Box got a kill right out of the break and then got another at 24-22 to put the first set away.
Box said the girls knew they would have some nerves in the first game despite the experience of going to state all four years for the seniors.
“We knew that we were all going to have butterflies, even the seniors who’ve been out there for three years. One of the things we haven’t done well all year was finish and tonight we did that well,” Box said.
Box finished with 16 kills on 38 attacks and had three block assists and a solo block on the night to lead HTC at the net.
She said the Crusaders knew Wetering and Gatton could be aggressive at the net, but the Crusaders just needed to settle in and adjust. Wetering is a left-handed hitter and HTC didn’t see a lot of those hitters during the year.
“We knew that they were going to take big swings and we saw they were tipping a lot so we had to adjust to that. Having the left hander you had to go up with her hand and after we adjusted in that first set we were able to kind of neutralize that in the second and third sets,” Box said.
With senior Eryn Anderson serving to start the second set, HTC again jumped out to a big 7-1 lead on a kill by Box. Then Wetering countered with a wild shot that found the floor in front of senior libero Elyse Pothitakis who dove to the right trying to fist the ball up. The Bravettes got consecutive blocks on Box to close the gap to 7-3 but junior Avery Hopper got a side out kill following a Wetering error at the net to give HTC a 11-3 lead.
Then Gatton rotated into the front line and the crafty senior kept HTC guessing with big swings and then accurate pushes accounting for five kills in a 3-8 run that brought Montezuma back to just a two-point deficit 13-11. Gatton was whistled for a carry at 14-11 and Randolph scored an ace to push the lead to 15-11. But Gatton asserted herself again in a 4-1 Bravettes run that cut the lead back to two at 16-14 and HTC head coach Melissa Freesmeier called a timeout.
The set would stay within two points until a Gatton kill knotted everything up at 19, forcing another Crusaders timeout. Montezuma again was whistled for a carry. The teams traded points before Montezuma’s Riley Hasley’s serve went deep and HTC senior Elyse Pothitakis recoiled on the return and let the ball go deep for a 22-21 lead. Roorda got a block to tie it again at 23-23, and 24-24. The Bravettes were called for a double hit to put HTC within a point at 25-24 and then Box got a kill to give the Crusaders the second match 26-24.
HTC held control of the third set and didn’t allow Montezuma to get any energy going and pushed leads of 4-0, 10-5, and 19-9 getting the fans, some dressed as cows, to their feet sensing a Crusaders advance.
Anderson, rotating to the front line with Holy Trinity up 20-13, got two kills to make it 22-14. Gatton put kills in between the Crusaders, sensing the end, to start a bit of trade-for-points at 23-17. The Crusaders went to Box again for back-to-back kills to end the night.
Anderson said the Bravettes may have been underestimated coming into the tourney.
“I think they were really underrated. They were just big and we had to get used to that. Around southeast Iowa there aren’t that many big teams,” she said. “We haven’t seen a lot of lefties. That was different and that was a little intimidating for some of the girls but we all settled in well.”
Senior Mya Lawlor, who tied for team high in digs with Randolph with nine, said the second and third sets they were able to take some of the Bravettes’ energy.
“The second and third set we started off strong and energy was so high and that’s so important and we’ve been working on that all season,” she said. “Volleyball is such a mental game and we were able to get in their heads a little bit.”
Freesmeier said the Crusaders knew Montezuma would be strong with their middle hitters.
“We knew their offense would move through their middle. Those are two very talented kids in the middle. Our kids did an amazing job of staying with it and fighting back and we got that first win which was huge for us,” Freesmeier said.
“Game two we started big and then let them in a little but I didn’t see any fear and the girls kept pushing and were there for each other and that was nice to see from a coach’s standpoint.”
She said Gehlen Catholic will pose some of the same threats that Montezuma showed.
“They do a lot of the same things. They run their offense out of the middle and we need to slow them down. Just play hard and play defense and I think our kids are up to that task.”
Anderson finished with five kills on 14 attacks and had two blocks for HTC. Sophomore Bailey Hellweg had 13 assists and Randolph chipped in with 11.
HTC will play on court 2 starting at 6 p.m. Thursday.