Pontificating HTC volleyball and driving slushy highways

HTC Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier gives a serve zone to Bailey Hellweg Thursday night. Freesmeier is in the middle of a legacy with the Holy Trinity volleyball program. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

I can’t drive 55…or 65 for that matter, there’s just too much to do.

This week I’ve made the mind-numbing trek to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on what will be three straight days following the wonderful unfolding story of the girls in blue that smack that freakin’ pink, gray, and white leather ball all over the place – so fast, I might add, that I can’t get stoppage on my Canon. That bugs me. But Emily Box… that’s my problem – not yours.

On Thursday night I had to put The Beast (that’s my wife’s Toyota FJ Cruiser) in 4-high because of the slushy roads, and had to slow to 45 going down Highway 103. That REALLY bugs me. I had to stop to get the ever-forming ice off my wipers. I have three of those stupid little things and neither one could handle the elements. Puny wipers.

But in all that extra time and sliding, slushing, and cussing, I kept coming back to how this smaller squad of Crusaders keeps knocking off these physically bigger volleyball squads.

I don’t know volleyball very well. I still have to ask Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier technical questions…”So… that was a serve, right?” “What’s this ‘rally’ scoring and when the heck did that start?”

Holy Trinity Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier talks about leadership with her team after Thursday night’s state volleyball semifinal win over Gehlen Catholic. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

But one thing keeps coming back to me. This lady, who looks all of 30, but has been coaching longer than that – she knows volleyball. And very well.

I asked Holy Trinity Catholic Athletic Director John Goetz before the Crusaders knocked off 2nd-seeded Gehlen Catholic on Thursday to advance to the Class 1A title match on Friday – “Howz come our girls never get called for carries and doubles, John?”. I know he thought of back-handing me, but gently said, “Don’t say that. DO NOT SAY THAT!…you’ll jinx us. They are coached very, very well.”

We got called for two doubles Thursday night. I know he shot me a look, but I wasn’t dumb enough to look up from my notes. Then I added salt to the wound by tweeting that HTC was one set away from a shot at the championship. After I hit “send now” I looked across at John who’s face was in his phone. I hope he was trolling Brietbart.

I’ve interviewed presidential candidates, national musicians, scumbag murderers, and broke a story on the largest national beef recall of its time. I’m a seasoned reporter, dare I say journalist. I am not intimidated.

Melissa Freesmeier intimidates me.

She’s been coaching almost as long as the Daily Democrat’s Chrii-is Faulk-ner clap….clap…clapclapclap has been covering Fort Madison sports. Just let that simmer for a moment… (and please refer to the “looks all of 30” comment exactly three paragraphs above).

I watched Wednesday night against Montezuma and I realized what it was that makes this, and past Holy Trinity Catholic volleyball teams, so tough to beat. They know “how” to play within the nuances of the moment…the opposing players weaknesses and strengths, the court, the officials… the environment. Montezuma got beat up on a lot of carry calls and double hits that kept giving HTC side outs. (See, I’m learning – side out: when a team scores a point and takes control of the serve).

These girls in blue drill… a lot, and therefore don’t get caught up in the smaller errors that can plague other teams. I suspect the perennial powerhouse Janesville Wildcats are fairly well-versed in not carrying or doubling, too. Top-seeded Janesville stands between Holy Trinity Catholic and its second state title in five years. I don’t know when the Wildcats last lost to a Class 1A school but they’ll be tested starting at 7 p.m. Friday night.

Doing the little things and doing them well, taking what your opponents give you, believing in yourself and trusting your teammates, minimizing mistakes and seizing opportunities- that’s what wins championships. We’ve seen a lot of that at HTC.

Freesmeier has three state titles under her belt, two with Marquette and one with HTC in 2014. She’s taken the Crusaders to nine straight state tournaments. She passed 900 career wins this year and is on pace to hit 1,000 before the next decade rolls around. Don’t get me going on the ‘0’ or ‘1’ being the official start of the next decade – I do not care. Either way I’m sure I’ll be right. I asked her once why she wasn’t making big bucks coaching in college and she said the opportunities have been dangled, but her answer is a simple – ‘why?’. She said she has everything she needs right here. A great support system, current and former players that really are more family than players, and a tradition that she simply holds hands with. High-fiving everyone, including reporters, giving and getting hugs from Tom, Kelly, Stephanie, and everyone in the HTC system in tow as she hauls the Crusaders around the state testing… and coaching… and teaching.

Win or lose, its the girls first. And she’s there for them… always coaching and not just volleyball – but life. Failure begets success on and off the court. I’m not really sure where she’s had too much failure – she’s certainly had success. She calmly molds young, raw talent into productive, veteran experience. And she does it year… after year… after year.

This is her legacy to share. And she generously does. We watch the story unfold from the front edge of our seats – and clap and breathe and cheer with each ball that hits the floor on the other side, and then hold our breath when it rudely falls to the floor on ours.

Whether they’re hoisting the big trophy on Friday, or the small (and if it’s all the same to everyone else, I’d rather do interviews after hoisting the big trophy), I’ll be damn proud to talk to them all – even if it’s the small.

But for about 120 minutes on Friday night, Lady Crusaders  – be better… be smarter… be quicker… be stronger… and trust in the girls around you…

…and that lady over there on the sidelines.

About Chuck Vandenberg 5254 Articles
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