BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – After shaking off the typical first game jitters, the 6th-ranked Holy Trinity Catholic Crusaders glided to a sweep of visiting Danville in the season opening volleyball action at Shottenkirk Gym.
Coming off a dazzling Class 1A tournament run in 2018 that ended with a state-runner trophy making the trip back to Holy Trinity High School, Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier’s troops now look for their own identity.
After missing four of their first five serves, the Crusaders seemed to hunting for their confidence and stride, but rebounded quickly sending Danville home 25-14, 25-18, 25-6.
“We got a little bit out of sorts there,” Freesmeier said. “We just started working on the lineup yesterday. They’re getting used to it and will get comfortable with it.”
After falling behind 4-1 and having trouble finding the groove from the service line, junior Claire Pothitakis got things going with a couple kills at 2-4 and 3-5, but it was an ace from Maria Rauenbuehler that kicked off a 11-0 run, that put HTC out comfortably 17-9.
Most of the points came from Danville errors on attacks that went long, but senior Avery Hopper, sophomore Kassi Randolph and Pothitakis all recorded kills in the run.
Freesmeier said despite not having 1st team All-State Emily Box anchoring the front line, this year’s squad has more height. Randolph and Hopper are 5’9″ and 5’10” respectively. She can also put Katie Denning and Brooke Mueller, both listed at 5’8″, and Pothitakis at 5’7″ on the front line as well.
‘We got some big blocks today and with Kassi, Avery, Katie, Bailey Hellweg, we’re bigger than we’ve been in the past and it’s nice to see that,” she said. “Our back row kids are going to pick up those balls and they’re just getting better and better.”
Danville would cut the lead to six when Isabella Smith dumped one over the net that found some floor, but the Bears wouldn’t get any closer. Danville senior Teagan Kruse missed on a kill attempt at 24-14 to end the first set.
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead in the second set with Randolph serving. Danville sophomore Ava Smith would get a kill to close the gap to 8-6, on a small 5-2 Danville run. The Bears would stay within two points as the teams traded serves for a while.
Holy Trinity would stretch the lead to 15-11 on a Hellweg kill from the left side, and then senior Elle Rashid would lead the Crusaders on a 4-0 run to 19-11. Denning and Pothitakis would then miss back-to-back attacks long, but Isabella Smith would then go long for Danville.
Pothitakis would reel off four straight points to put HTC just two points from the set at 23-13. Danville would string together three straight on consecutive misses by Denning, but Mueller got a side out to make it 24-16. Danville would get two more points to make things interesting, but Ava Smith would go long on an attack to put HTC up two sets to none.
The story of the third set was Pothitakis’ 13-point run that started at 3-2. Before Mueller would have an attack go wide right, HTC was way out in front 16-3. Hellweg and Denning both teamed for several blocks and each had a kill in the run.
Danville would only salvage three more points as HTC quickly put the third set in the books.
Freesmeier said she was happy with where the kids were after a summer of camps, and workouts and several scrimmages last week.
“I saw a lot of good things and if we can build on the good and work on those things we struggle with, will just get better and that’s our goal to get better every day,” she said.
“Anytime you get a sweep in conference play that’s a good thing. I’m not surprised where we’re at. Our hitters have developed into some really good hitters. We took some big swings tonight. We’re gettin’ there.
Pothitakis led the team at the net going 22-26 attacking with eight kills. She also had three aces from the service line. Mueller, just a freshman was 18-21 attacking with five kills.
Rauenbuehler had 11 digs to lead the Crusaders, who travel to Bondurant on Saturday for a full day at the Bondurant-Farrar Invitational.