BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MEDIAPOLIS – The Holy Trinity Crusaders swept their way through the Mediapolis Invitational Thursday night to wrap up the regular season.
The Fort Madison Bloodhounds went 1-2 on the night knocking off Mediapolis in the first match of the night, but then falling to Holy Trinity and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.
Fort Madison (11-17) and Holy Trinity (25-9) met up in the second match of the night and the Hounds had things in hand early on opening up an 11-6 lead on the Crusaders in the first set.
Madison Pirri reeled off three straight points with the Hounds up 8-6. The Crusaders found a case of the yips in the stretch with Brooke Mueller missing on two attacks and Kassi Randolph shoving a push at the net out of bounds, forcing a time out from Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier.
Randolph would get a kill out of the time out which would trigger a 6-2 run for the Crusaders capped by a kill from the outside by Claire Pothitakis for a 13-12 lead.
The set would go back and forth with ties at 13, 14, 16, 18 and 20 before HTC went on a 7-0 run to wrap it up. Fort Madison called a time out after back-to-back attack errors gave HTC the lead 21-20, but Randolph would take over with two kills in the final three points for the win.
The Crusaders would cruise to win the second set opening up a quick 14-5 lead behind three kills from Mueller, and big block by Mueller and Kayla Box at 10-3. Randolph would get three kills in the middle of a 5-3 run to set the score at 19-8 as HTC ran away with the match.
Fort Madison would take E-B-F into three sets but would fall in the tiebreaker 15-9 in their final match of the night.
Holy Trinity ran into a bit of a buzzsaw with Mediapolis to wrap up the night. The Crusaders jumped all over the Bulldogs in the first set trying to get home for the Dodgers/Braves game, but Mediapolis had other plans after dropping the first set 25-14.
The Bulldogs’ senior Josie Wolter took over early recording three kills in the first seven points to spot Mediapolis a 7-4 lead. HTC would come back to tie the match at 8 on a kill from Mueller in a 7-0 run that put the Crusaders up 11-8.
Mediapolis would put together a run of their own and a kill from Wolter knotted things up at 11. The two would go back and forth through a tie at 17 and then Wolters would give HTC fits again forcing a time out at 20-17.
The Bulldogs would stretch the lead to five at 22-17 before Randolph dumped a push over the front line that landed in the center court to make it 22-18. Two more attacking errors by the Crusaders and a kill from sophomore Kennedy Willever put the set away 25-20.
Freshman Natalie Randolph got the Crusaders off to a 3-0 start in the tiebreaker from the service line, while Pothitakis cleaned things up at the net as HTC pulled away. A kill from Kassi Randolph inside gave Holy Trinity at 10-5 lead and the junior finished things off with a kill at 14-9 for the win.
Head Coach Melissa Freesmeier was playing without the services of senior Katie Denning, who’s still nursing a stress fracture and freshman Mary Kate Bendlage, but she said this year the Crusaders have learned from adversity and can roll with the changes in personnel with the post-season starting next week.
“They’re ready. We know we can throw any lineup in and it’s going to work We’re just ready to get started,” Freesmeier said. “We got through the season and now it’s hurry up and get to the post season. We’re excited.”
The Crusaders are in a bracket with 13th-ranked WACO and Burlington Notre Dame, who now are playing with Monmouth transfer twins Josie and Jenna Bentz, two impact players that were originally ruled ineligible by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
After the union did an about face on appeal, the Nikes have gone 7-0 while taking 18 of 21 sets, including a 3-1 win over WACO on the road.
Freesmeier said this will be the toughest road through the regionals in several years.
“We got a bunch of seniors on this team that are great kids and the younger kids have learned a lot this year. So bring it on, let’s have some fun,” she said.
“It’s been tough all year, but the best team goes and you gotta play the best to be the best.”
Fort Madison coach Kent Bailey said the Bloodhounds have to find ways to overcome flat spells in matches.
“We put some other players in who work just as hard as starters do. Then we get flat and we put our starters back in and they don’t come back in ready to play, and we lose a third game to Eddyville,” Bailey said. “We’ve done that several times this year.”
The Hounds post-season Class 4A Region 8 bracket includes several comparable teams, including Mt. Pleasant and Burlington with No. 4 North Scott looming in the top half on a bye.
“We’ve beat Mt. Pleasant. We’ve taken games away from Burlington,” he said. “We just gotta get kids excited about going out their and battling and win it. You just gotta go out and do it.”