BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It’s an odd feeling for a Fort Madison volleyball team to not be on the floor for the championship match of the annual Holy Trinity Classic.
But that’s what happened Monday night after six hours of volleyball found the Burlington Grayhounds and the Central Lee Hawks squaring off for the classic trophy.
The Hawks had just eliminated HTC in two sets 21-17 23-21 and the Grayhounds walked all over Wapello in the last match of the silver pool play.
Central Lee took the first game of the championship 21-17. Burlington came back in the second game and rolled the Lady Hawks 21-9, but a 15-13 tiebreaker gave the Hawks the Classic title.
The Grayhounds had beaten the Hawks in pool play early in the tourney.
The Crusaders had early leads in both the semifinal games with Central Lee. In the first game, HTC went up 4-2 before the Hawks went on a 10-3 run that included six straight with junior Mya Merschman serving. Kaylynn Summers capped the run with a kill at 12-7, but an error at the net killed the drive.
HTC would then pull off a five-point run to knot the score at 12, highlighted by consecutive kills from junior Katie Denning, freshman Brooke Mueller, and sophomore Kassi Randolph. Randolph’s came on a marathon point that ended with her finding some wood behind the front line.
The teams would get tied up again at 17 and then Central Lee would rip off the next four straight to take the game.
Holy Trinity would again pull out ahead 5-1 to start the second game, but Central Lee would fight back and tie it up at 5 when Merschman flipped the ball over the block of senior Avery Hopper and Denning.
They would tie it up four more times at 7, 8, 9, 10, and then HTC would pull ahead by as much as four at 17-13 on a Hawks’ net violation. HTC would commit three straight errors to let Central Lee close to within one 17-16.
A Hawk error pushed the HTC lead back to 3 at 20-17, but the Crusaders couldn’t get the final point as Central Lee went racing by including a 20-20 tie on a kill by Summers. The two teams would knot up again at 21 and then another Summers’ kill put Central Lee up by 1 and senior Andrea Brenner finished it off with a soft kill to the left side to end it for HTC.
“We need to win one of these close games. We’re right in there and staying with them,” HTC head coach Melissa Freesmeier said.
“But I just think we’ve improved a ton from three weeks ago. We’re getting better. Our middles are getting stronger and we’ve got more shots.”
She said defensively, the team is picking things up better, but they haven’t gotten over that one big hump yet.
“We’ll come into the gym tomorrow and Wednesday and get ready for the conference tourney on Thursday. It doesn’t get any easier from here,” she said.
The Crusaders knocked off Keokuk 21-11, 21-11 and then saddled Winfield-Mt. Union with a 21-7, 21-11 loss before sending Danville away 21-9, 21-13.
In the silver pool, Central Lee knocked off Fort Madison 21-8, 21-11, then fell to Burlington 20-22 and 21-15, before coming back to nip at Wapello 21-17 and 21-18.
Fort Madison didn’t come away with a win on the night, but gave Burlington all they wanted and then some in the Bloodhounds’ final match of the night.
The Hounds had Burlington down 19-18 in both games but let the lead slip through their paws.
In game one, Fort Madison held leads of four and five on several different occasions, but a kill from Kylie May on a point following an attack from FMHS’ Kylie Cashman that went long, tied the score at 19 each.
The two 4A schools would knot it up again at 20 and 21, but a kill from Burlington’s Angel Baylark gave Burlington a lead it wouldn’t surrender as they went on to the 23-21 first game win.
Fort Madison again would take a commanding lead in the second set, going up by as much as four at 18-14, but couldn’t get the ball to the right person at the end. The two would tie it up at 19 and the Grayhounds would get a block for a point from Bailey Weimann and then senior Jillian Wiseman would send an attack deep on the left side.
“We’ve gotta find a way to finish. To get the ball to the kid that’s going to do that for us and we’ve got to figure out who that is beyond Jillian,” Head Coach Kent Bailey said.
“We’ve got other kids that can and they show it during practice. It’s just one of those things where they have to get that mentality.”
Bailey said the first two matches were more of a struggle, but the final match with Burlington is where he said the girls played close to their capabilities.
“The first two matches were a struggle and you gotta give Central Lee credit. They played and they took us out of what we wanted to do and Wapello kept digging some balls up. We probably had that match won but they dug a couple up and got the win,” he said.
“And then we got to Burlington and we saw improvement there because the kids fought. That’s the kind of fight if we can get day after day would give us a chance to win every night.”