BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
CEDAR RAPIDS – To say it was an overachievement doesn’t wipe away the sting of not making it to the state title match, but it would seem appropriate.
The Holy Trinity Catholic girls volleyball team bowed out of the Class 1A State Tournament Thursday night at the U.S. Cellular Center in straight sets 25-23, 30-28, 25-19 to 6-seed Wapsie Valley.
Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier said there was some speculation about this team’s capabilities.
“This team had a lot of doubters in the beginning. They didn’t think they had what it takes to get back to Cedar Rapids and they did it,” she said.
“They got to the semis and fought and the proved they should be here.”
The fight started early after trailing 4-1, junior Claire Pothitakis, who finished the night with a match-high 19 kills, found wood on back-to-back points. When Wapsie Valley’s Lydia Imbrogno’s attack went long it was knotted at four.
The Warriors would pull away again at 5-8, but HTC would go on a 4-1-run to tie it up at 9s when junior Katie Denning’s block dropped on Wapsie Valley’s side of the pink court.
The score would be littered with ties at 12, 13, 15, and 16. A Warrior attack went wide to knot things up at 20, but Pothitakis would slide in from the left and drill a shot across the front of the Warrior defense to give HTC its second lead of the match at 21-20.
The two teams would battle again to a 23-23 tie but Imbrogno would catch two kills from her outside hitter spots to end at 25-23.
The air seemed to have gone out of the sails in the second set with Wapsie Valley cruising to a 13-7 lead highlighted by Imbrogno’s five kills. She also finished with 19 on the night. Sophomore Kassi Randolph and freshman Brooke Mueller both got kills to help spark at 4-1 run and get the Crusaders back within three at 13-10.
Wapsie Valley countered with a 4-0 run and then Imbrogno pounded a shot from mid court that found the floor between Rauenbuehler and Randolph for a 19-12 lead forcing an HTC time out.
A case of the yips hit the Warriors as senior Avery Hopper worked in a kill to close the gap to three. Two points later Pothitakis hit a shot right down the left hand line to tie it up at 20.
The next 10 points were a point-counterpoint affair with ties at every point through 28. Randolph got a solo block just right of center net to give HTC at 25-24 lead, but senior Kaci Beesecker hit a kill to tie it up again. Beesecker would get kills in between scores from Hopper and Mueller to keep the game tied.
When an Imbrogno attack went long, HTC had a 27-26 lead, but she came right back on the next point of a Randolph serve and scored to tie it back up.
Pothitakis got a kill to give HTC its fourth set point, but Imbrogno had another answer. On the next point Imbrogno hit a laser that Randolph picked up off the dive but the ball bounced right over the net where freshman Kalvyn Rosengarten smashed it down for a 29-28 Wapsie lead.
The next attack from HTC would go long and the marathon affair ended 30-28.
“We started digging ourselves a hole,” Pothitakis said. “We needed to get out of it and I think we fought really hard.”
Freesmeier said one swing that goes the other way and the Crusaders would have played more volleyball.
“They never quit, and you know if one or two things change in game two who knows,” she said.
“Wapsie is a great team and that will be a great match with whoever they get tomorrow night.”
HTC had a 2-0 lead out of the gate in the third set, and the set went in waves from 1 to 3 point Crusader deficits. A Rosengarten attack would go off Hopper’s fingertips and fall to the floor behind her for a 16-13 lead.
Holy Trinity would close the gap to two points on a Randolph scoring attack at 16-18, but Wapsie Valley would run out the clock on the Crusaders’ year with a 7-3 run capped by a Becca Platte kill for the 25-19 win.
Pothitakis said the Crusaders had to start moving the ball away from the libero, McKenna Miller, who was keeping the Warriors in points.
“Hitting-wise we knew we couldn’t go to the libero because she was picking up every single ball up, so going down the line and going across was most of the good shots we had to take,” she said.
Freesmeier said the Warriors serve received very well, but the Crusaders got out of the gate a little flat.
“We started slow and in game one we missed opportunities and didn’t do real well. Then we settled in and things went very well. They were an aggressive team and they were the better team tonight and you have to tip your hat to that,” she said.
Senior Maille Sheerin said even though a shot at the championship would have been the ultimate goal, she thought the year was a success.
“Of course I wish we had made it to the championship and possibly win. That was a goal,” she said.
“But we got here and that’s all that matters. We worked so hard to get here and that’s most important.. how hard we worked every single person on the team put so much in and without that we wouldn’t have gotten here.”
Freesmeier thanked the five seniors – Hopper, Sheerin, Nicole Pothitakis, Abbie Dingman, and Elle Rashid.