BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MEDIAPOLIS – The Mediapolis volleyball team had given up just seven games all year and has amassed a 35-1 record.
The Class 2A 2nd-ranked Bulldogs moved to 39-1 on the year after hosting a four-team invitational on Thursday night and getting all they wanted from Class 1A’s 8th-ranked Holy Trinity Catholic eeking out an exciting 20-25, 25-21, 15-13 thriller.
The Crusaders made relatively easy work of Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont to open the night 25-12, 25-14 and then rolled past Fort Madison 25-12, 25-14, before running up against the Bulldogs who had an eerily tough match with E-B-F just prior.
The Rockets, who went 1-3 on the night pushed Mediapolis to a 25-22 first game as the Bulldogs had a tough time finding answers to junior Brooke Shafer, but were able to adjust in the second game with a 25-16 win.
Mediapolis beat Fort Madison 25-12, 25-11 in their opening match of the night.
So most people stuck around to see the two top teams in their classes finish duking it out and HTC got off to rocky start trailing 0-3 with juniors Katie Denning going wide with an attack and Claire Pothitakis hitting long.
Mediapolis senior Ruthie Jahn then scored a kill to make it 3-0, but Jahn would miss on her next attempt and HTC came rushing back with a 4-0 run capped by sophomore Kassi Randolph’s ace at 4-3.
Pothitakis would miss on an attacks long, but then hit cross-court from the outside that found wood for a 5-5 tie. That point started a 6-0 run with senior Maille Sheerin serving back-to-back aces putting the ball exactly where Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier was calling and pushed HTC to a 10-5 lead. Sheerin would get another ace at 9-5 and the Crusaders would record another kill to go up 10-5 before senior Helaina Hillyard would bury a kill to end the run.
Hillyard, is arguably one of the strongest right-handed hitters in the state, and on two different occasions attacked from the outside and switched her swing in mid-air recording kills with her left hand, drawing ‘Ooooohs’ from the cheap seats.
Hillyard and Olivia Moehle would team up to bring the Bulldogs back. Moehle was serving and Hillyard put down three kills in four points and threw up a block for fourth point in a 6-point run to give Mediapolis the lead at 11-10.
Moehle would put her seventh serve into the net to knot it up at 11. Hillyard would hit long on the next point and HTC would hold onto a 1-to-2 point lead the rest of the way.
At 20-18, senior Avery Hopper would attack long to close the gap to one point for the final time in the match, but a missed Mepo service, an ace from Pothitakis and an attack wide from senior Rachel Kennedy would put the Crusaders up 22-19. Hopper would put up a block at 24-20 to send the ball back to the Mepo floor and take the first game 25-20.
On the switch over, HTC would again fall into a hole giving up an 0-6 run to start the game and would trail by as much as eight at 5-13 before slowly starting to nip away at the lead.
Down six at 9-15, Holy Trinity would outscore Mediapolis 6-2 over the next eight points capped by a diving dig by Maria Rauenbuehler that converted to a kill by Hopper to close the gap to one at 18-19.
Rauenbuehler had several digs on the floor off the wicked paces of Hillyard and Jahn keeping HTC in points along with Sheerin and Taylor Crabtree.
“I think we all just really wanted to win and we did everything we could to pick up (Hillyard’s) balls and the blockers did a good job getting touches to make it easy on the back row,” Rauenbuehler said.
“We knew she would be a big player we just had to do all we could to pick up her shots.”
Freesmeier said Rauenbuehler was a critical part of keeping the Crusaders in all three games.
“She stayed in position and did some nice things. She’s a great libero. Stays calm and focused and I don’t think she missed a serve. This gives her some confidence, too going into the post-season,” Freesmeier said.
Freshman Brooke Mueller would get an attack to find the floor when two Mepo girls got tangled up in the middle to tie the game at 19.
Jahn would would get two kills around an HTC net violation to go up three but Hopper would get another kill to close it to 21-23. Mepo’s Ellie Gerber got a kill and then a Mueller attack would get caught up in the tape and roll down the net falling on HTC’s side for the game.
HTC would again spot the Bulldogs points out of the break down 2-0, A block up the middle and a kill from Pothitakis started the first of what would be six ties in the game at 2-2 and another Pothitakis kill tied it up again at 4-4. Her ace would knot the game at 6 and then a Taylor Crabtree ace tied things up at 9.
Brooke Mueller hit long to give Mediapolis at 2-point cushion at 9-11, but the Crusaders would battle back again to tie things up at 12 when Denning and Bailey Hellweg repelled at Hillyard blast from the left side.
HTC would manage just one more point on a kill from Pothitakis at 13-13, but Hillyard would clean things up with a push over at 14-13 and a kill at 15-13.
“That was a damn good team across the net. We gave them all we had. We fought,” Freesmeier said. “After that loss Tuesday we could have come in here and folded but we took care of Eddyville and Fort Madison and we went into the Mediapolis game believing in ourselves.
“Hillyard over there is a hell of an athlete and I feel like this is going to give us momentum. We served aggressively – had some big digs – Taylor , Maria and Maille I just can’t say enough about them.”
Holy Trinity is coming off a five-set nailbiter loss against 2A Central Lee on Tuesday night. The tiebreaker against Mediapolis was the seventh match of the year that has come down to a first-to-15 tiebreaker. HTC is 3-4 in those tiebreaker games.
“Were in shape for it, but volleyball is a two-point game and one of these days were going to take that and we’re gonna win that game.”
Rauenbuehler said the loss to Mediapolis really serves more as a win for the team.
“I think it definitely helps. Almost beating Mediapolis which is a huge team and really good, is really going to push us to make us know we can do it and go as far as we want to,” Rauenbuehler said.
The Crusaders are now off until Oct. 28, when they play the winner of the Burlington Notre Dame/Winfield Mt. Union first round regional game at Holy Trinity.
Individual stats from the quadrangular at Mediapolis will be included in tomorrow’s recap.