6th-ranked Crusaders look for next group to roll in

The 2019 Holy Trinity Catholic Crusaders volleyball team. Courtesy photo.

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – With a 2018 Class 1A state-runner up volleyball banner on the wall at Shottenkirk Gymnasium, Holy Trinity Catholic is reloading for another run at at state.

The Crusaders are ranked 6th in Class 1A coming into the season, but Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier said the squad will carry a different look than in the past.

With 1st team all-stater and 1st Team All-Tournament selection Emily Box lost to graduation and playing at Grandview College, coupled with the losses of 2018 senior Eryn Anderson, a first team 2018 Class 1A All-Tournament selection, Mya Lawlor, Katie Scoville, and Jori Whitaker, Freesmeier now turns to a slough of underclassman waiting in the wings.

Freesmeier, who’s entering her 27th year on the sidelines, stopped short of calling this year a rebuilding year, or even a reloading year, but said there will definitely be a new look to the program.

“I don’t know if you call it a rebuilding year or not, but it’s certainly a season the coaches and I are looking forward to,” Freesmeier said.

The Crusaders finished the 2018 campaign 37-4 last year, falling to Janesville in three-straight 16-14-22 in the state tournament championship.

With the loss of the five seniors, Freesmeier calls on what has become a perennial rotation of girls into one of the most storied Class 1A high school volleyball programs in the state for the past decade.

And 2019 is no different as Freesmeier quickly rattles off about ten girls who she is looking to for leadership and to step into the big holes left in graduation.

Names like Claire and Nicole Pothitakis, Katie Denning, Avery Hopper, Kassi Randolph, Bailey Hellweg, Abby Dingman, Maille Sheerin, Taylor Crabtree, Elle Rashid, and Maria Rauenbuehler, and even a freshman named Brooke Mueller roll out as those looking to step in and carry on the tradition.

“I think we’re going to take a different look this year, Freesmeier said. “We’ll look at different things from Claire Pothitakis and Katie Denning, of course. Avery Hopper is there, too, as a big block in the middle. Our two setters coming back in Kassi and Bailey and I’m looking at one or even both of them to hit this year.”

Mueller stands 5’8″, the second tallest player on the team, and Freesmeier said she’s looking for big things out of the freshman.

“I feel the kids coming in are going to be able to pick up the slack. I don’t know if it will be early or mid-season – I don’t know when we’re going to hit that big part of our season, but I think these kids are up for the challenge,” Freesmeier said.

“It will be a new look, but it’s going to a fun look.”

Claire and Nicole Pothitakis will be looked on to solidify the front while seniors Elle Rashid and Maille Sheerin are the defensive specialists. Freesmeier said she’ll be looking to juniors Crabtree and Rauenbuehler in the mix there as well.

“We have a good base there and some good passers,” Freesmeier said.

“We’re just looking at our assets and going from there. Box was a powerhouse in the middle, and we’re probably going to share some of those responsibilities with the other hitters and see who’s hot.”

But Freesmeier has an eye on junior Claire Pothitakis, a 1st team all-district soccer player, to help bring the team together with seniors Dingman, Nicole Pothitakis, Sheerin, Rashid, and Hopper.

C. Pothitakis

“Right now we’re looking at Claire to step up and take some of the leadership role,” Freesmeier said. “She played many different positions last year I had her all over the place depending on what we needed, so right now she’s going to the outside and she’s very comfortable in that slot.”

She said the conference is always a battle. Van Buren starts the season ranked 5th in Class 2A, but she expects big things from Central Lee, New London, and West Burlington. On the north side of the Superconference, Mediapolis is 10th in Class 2A.

“Those are a lot of big schools with big teams and kids coming back and they’re very athletic, and it will be a battle to the top of the conference for sure,” she said.

The Crusaders start the year Thursday night at home against Danville with a freshman/junior varsity/varsity set starting at 5:30 p.m., before traveling to the Bondurant-Farrar tourney on Saturday.

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