BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – A storybook season came to an end Friday amidst the tears and anguish of a Goliath that David couldn’t slay.
Janesville sent the Holy Trinity Catholic Crusaders home with a runner-up trophy at the Class 1A Iowa State Volleyball championship 25-16, 25-14, 25-22. The Crusaders couldn’t get really get anything going against a Wildcats team that hasn’t dropped a set to a Class 1A opponent in four years.
2017 All-tournament captain Bree Thompson was as good as billed and finished with 19 kills, but on 53 attacks which was a conference low for her at 16%. Holy Trinity Seniors Emily Box and Eryn Anderson were also named to the squad.
After Box started the game with a kill in the middle of a tight set from Bailey Helweg, the Crusaders went flat with Thompson and Alisa Bengen getting three quick kills to set a pace that had Holy Trinity on its heels down 2-7. The blue fought back after a Gergen tip landed just outside the line and then Box got another attack from left center to find the floor. Thompson’s next kill down the left line went deep and Anderson had an attack in the next rally go long to make it 5-9. Senior Taylor Boeding would get a kill in the next point to close it to 6-9 but the Crusaders would get no closer in the first game.
Janesville put a swarming rotation defense that got to almost every ball the Crusaders offered up. Thompson recorded her fifth kill of the set to give the Wildcats a 17-9 lead. Holy Trinity would put a couple points together on a baby 3-0 run to cut into the lead 14-23 and then made the Wildcats work for the win with another 3-0 run to make it 16-24, spurred by an Janesville error at the net and then Wildcat junior Bailey Hoff sent an attack deep right, but Bengen would clean things up on the next point for the 25-16 win.
The Crusaders trailed from start to end in the second set but stayed within one to three points. A Thompson kill at 13-8 seemed to take the gas out of the Crusaders’ tank. Box would try to keep HTC in it with two kills at 9-14 and 10-17 and then Thompson got uncharacteristically wild with some spin balls and a hard cross court shot that just missed the line. The Crusaders were called for a double hit to push the lead to 9 at 21-12 and HTC would get just two more points off a missed Gabby Gergen serve and a long attack that sealed the second set 25-14.
With the third set tied out of the gate at 1, senior Mya Lawlor recorded three aces in a row with the third hitting the net climbing up the tape and rolling about six inches to the left before falling and getting tangled in the net. Thompson got a kill on the next point in the left center to end the run and then recorded two more coming up from the middle to knot the score at 4. With Bengen serving, Thompson was called for a double hit to give the Crusaders the lead at 5-4 and they pushed that lead to 9-6, when Thompson continued to miss trying to find the lines and corners.
Janesville would put together a 3-0 run on a Gergen kill and a Thompson ace to tie things up at 9 all. The match would tie again at 10 and 11. A Bengen kill from the right side of the court gave Janesville a 14-11 lead, but junior Julia Meister would miss on a serve and Thompson would shank an attack and the Crusaders were back in it 13-14. They would tie the match at 16 and 17 with a couple Wildcat errors. Thompson would miss again in the next rally and then Box scored a big block on Thompson to put Holy Trinity up 19-17. They would keep the two point lead to 21-19 when an Anderson kill shot out the back right side of the court to make it 21-20. Hoff then stepped up with two big kills from her left outside hitter spot to tie the Crusaders at 21 and 22, after Anderson got a kill at 22.
HTC would get whistled for a center line error when Lawlor slid along the floor under the net to dig up a ball and then sent an attack long on the next point before Bengen got a kill to end the night.
Anderson said nerves were a problem at the outset.
“I think we started off the first two set with nerves,” she said. “I’d never been in this situation before. We had some freshmen and sophomores that have never even played in the tournament. The nevers really got the best of us. The third set was how we know we can play and I just wish that we would have showed that earlier.”
Freesmeier said the girls were having trouble getting reads on Thompson’s tips and spins early on but when they started picking up the motion, things got better.
“We expected her to do that, but we weren’t getting the read early. Once they started to see that, we picked up and then the score got a little closer,” she said.
“In game three they came out and played like they can, but you can’t get yourself down 0-2 against Janesville and expect to win. But the kids gave their all and I thought our seniors, who have been great for us this year, kept pushing and never gave up.”
Box said she felt the nerves in the early going, as well.
“We came out with nerves and we knew that would happen because we had some younger underclassmen. Our serve receive wasn’t as good as it usually is and we couldn’t get it to the hitters and setters,” she said.
“A tighter set is better for me with the big blocks, but we just couldn’t get that going.”
The senior said she was surprised at Thompson’s tactics in the game, but said at the end of the day, the Crusaders put as much into the game as they could.
“We gave them a fight in the third set and that’s all that matters. The seniors left it all out there. What we didn’t really expect was for them to tip as much. We were waiting for the big swing and then she started roll shotting in the middle all the time and that didn’t help. We just couldn’t get our offense running. But I played as hard as I possibly could tonight and making it to the championship game, not everyone can say they did that. That’s all I can ask for.”
Freesmeier said she couldn’t have more pride in what the team accomplished during the season.
“When the season started, we were playing all right, but we knew we could get better. As the season progressed, we took a loss that maybe we shouldn’t have to Central Lee, but that was a turning point for us where we said you wanna go – or go home and we haven’t had a bad practice since,” she said.
“We had a great weekend up here and I’m not going to take anything away from that.”
For the game, Box had 10 kills on 40 attacks, Boeding and Anderson each had three kills. Freshman Kassi Randolph had eight assists and Hellweg had nine to lead HTC in setting. Lawlor had 22 digs from the back row to go along with the three aces. Randolph had 10 digs.