BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
FORT MADISON – Holy Trinity’s roster only seems to be dotted with inexperience.
So many of the names that played a big role in the Crusaders’ 26-win season last year are back, even if they haven’t been around the program that long.
“We’re a little young this year,” coach Melissa Freesmeier said. “But we’re not, really. If you look at their ages, they’re young. But a lot of those kids had action on the varsity court last year.”
That, Freesmeier said, has made a big difference in the preseason, as the Crusaders look to start a new state tournament streak after their 10-year run was snapped last year in the regional semifinals by eventual Class 1A state champion Notre Dame.
“They’ve done a great job of being focused when they walk in the door,” Freesmeier said. They have goals, they have expectations. They’ve done their part. They’ve waited a long time (to get back).
“(Last year’s finish) was disappointing, I know, for the kids. It stung a lot. I know it was frustrating, but that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes. Those are the cards you’re dealt. I think it’s a good lesson learned. We had an opportunity to not to have lost that match (to Notre Dame). But I think it will drive them to do better this year.”
Senior Kassi Randolph is the leading returning hitter with 210 kills, but she also led the team with 380 assists last season. She and her younger sister, Natalie, will handle the setting duties this season, while also working as hitters in the Crusaders’ offense.
“My ‘Randolph Squared’ setting kids are doing a great job of learning our offense,” Freesmeier said. “And of course they’re great hitters.”
Freesmeier said Kassi Randolph has matured through her career.
“I think she has been a leader, on and off the court, the way she presents herself,” she said. “She was a very good hitter last year, and she’s always been a great setter. But her game has elevated this year.
”Sophomore Mary Kate Bendlage is coming off a 99-kill season.
“MK has grown a lot over the summer, over the club season,” Freesmeier said. “As a sophomore, she is a leader on the court. She’s always fired up, she’s always supporting her teammates. And she can get that big kill, make the other side wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Junior Kayla Box was a key reserve as a middle hitter last season. Box had 19 kills and 11 blocks.
“Kayla is big in the middle,” Freesmeier said. “She’s great at blocking at the net. I’m looking forward to watching her grow, because she’s gotten really strong this year.”
Sophomore Reagan Holvoet joins Box as a middle hitter. Outside hitter Brooke Mueller, who had 162 kills, is out until early September with a broken thumb.
“She’s got so many shots,” Freesmeier said of Mueller. “She sees the court so well. She’s just smart.”
Senior Anna Sobczak moves into the vacant libero spot.
“I think she’s going to be very solid there,” Freesmeier said.The Crusaders were No. 9 in Class 1A in the IGHSAU preseason poll. Three other SEI Superconference South Division teams are also in the rankings — Notre Dame is No. 1 and New London is No. 3 in Class 1A, while West Burlington is No. 8 in Class 3A.
“I think we have to play relaxed, just play our game,” Freesmeier said on what the Crusaders need to do against the difficult schedule ahead.
“Don’t put unneeded pressure on ourselves. These kids can play. Just trust what they’ve been taught.”
Seniors — Kassi Randolph (S/OH), Anna Sobczak (Libero).
Juniors — Kayla Box (OH/MH), Alexa Dingman (S), Laura Mehmert (DS), Brooke Mueller (OH)
Sophomores — Teagan Denning (DS), Jenna Hellman (DS), Natalie Randolph (S/OH), Mary Kate Bendlage (OH), Reagan Holvoet (MH)
Freshmen — Teagan Snaadt (DS/OH), Ellie Lake (DS), Anna Bendlage (OH)