Crusaders take out Class 3A No. 7 Falcons and fall in title match to Class 1A No. 1 Notre Dame
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST BURLINGTON – The Holy Trinity Catholic Crusaders lost the Southeast Iowa Superconference tournament on Saturday night to top-ranked Burlington Notre Dame.
But you would never have known they lost.
Melissa Freesmeier and the girls took the Class 1A No. 1 Nikes to the brink in a tiebreaker at Southeastern Community College’s Loren Walker Arena before falling in the title match, 18-25, 25-18, 10-15.
Freesmeier said the Crusaders are learning more and more about the Nikes each time they take the floor.
“But a lot of it is us taking care of us and believing in what we can do,” Freesmeier said. “And I think these kids are getting there. We’ve got some young kids in there, some sophomores, and it was just a great, great match.”
The Crusaders, ranked No. 5 in Class 1A, had already swept Class 3A No. 7 West Burlington 25-13, 25-23, in the semifinals and were itching for a rematch with the Nikes, who had swept HTC two weeks earlier in Fort Madison.
Notre Dame won the first game in the best 2-out-of-3 title match behind some timely hitting from senior Gabby Deery. A Deery kill at 9-5 gave the Nikes an early 4-point lead, but HTC would battle back and get within one when another Deery attack went long down the middle.
Holy Trinity would hang around, down by two to three points, until Notre Dame went on a 7-3 run to go up 23-17, setting up the first game win.
The Nikes started the second match with a service error and then the Crusaders’ Brooke Mueller reeled off six straight service points, including an ace, to give HTC at 6-0 lead before Deery again got a side out. Notre Dame would win five of the next seven points to close the gap to 8-5.
The Crusaders would stretch it back to seven when Mueller and Notre Dame’s Josie Bentz got to a ball at the same time over the net, but Mueller would win the point to go up 14-7. HTC would hold the seven-point advantage most of the way through the second game to force the tiebreaker. An ace by senior Kassi Randolph would seal the win and force the rubber match.
The tiebreaker started with the same intensity as the other two matches with the teams battling to a 4-4 tie with sophomore Natalie Randolph getting the kill from the Crusaders’ right outside spot for a side out. Anna Sobczak would serve up an ace to give the Crusaders a 5-4 lead and then Deery would hit long from the middle again, making it 6-4.
She wouldn’t miss on the next service point, however, for a side out. An HTC error at the net tied things back up at 6. Randolph would get another kill and Deery would go long again at 8-6 to force a Notre Dame time out.
Out of the break the Nikes would get two straight with Deery taking care of the middle hitting to tie it up at 8-8. The Nikes would take the lead on a block point and then outscore HTC 6-2 the rest of the way for the conference tournament title.
“That was a great match. That’s what the conference title should be – two teams battling it out,” Freesmeier said.
“I was proud of our kids, they stuck with it and we just went. We started slow against Central Lee and they did some great things against us. And then we got to West Burlington. This was a just a great, great final.
“I think we turned some heads tonight early in how bad we played, and later how good we played.”
Mueller said the Crusaders let the nerves get to them a little, but that was a little expected in the environment.
“It was a big game and there were a lot of people watching, but that just prepares us more for when we meet down the road again,” she said.
Kassi Randolph said it was just a two to three point run that was the difference in the match.
“I think we gave up a two or three point run in the tie breaker and the momentum switched to their side and it was like a domino effect from there,” she said.
“But each game we’re getting better and figuring out their game.”
But it was the Central Lee Lady Hawks that almost ruined the night for the Crusaders out of the gate.
Central Lee came in as the runner up out of New London pool play and rolled to a 25-19 win the first game of the night with HTC.
The Crusaders were in a battle from the get-go and after the two were tied at 14, the Lady Hawks went on an 11-5 run highlighted by six straight service points from Macy Watkins. That run included three block points at the net with Meghan Hopp and Maura Watkins patrolling the net.
An ace by Sophie Turner would seal the first game at 25-19.
Freesmeier said she had to light a fire in the hallway during the break.
“They were not playing in Holy Trinity spirit. They just weren’t playing volleyball. Once they started doing that they were tough,” Freesmeier said.
“I believe in this team and I believe in the program. I’m not happy with the way it ended, but I’m happy with the way we played tonight.”
The Lady Hawks got up 6-3 to open the second game, but a block from Kassi Randolph capped a 3-point rally to tie things up at 6. Central lee would rally again with Maura Watkins having success attacking HTC’s left side down the line. Watkins had four kills in a 7-4 run that had the Hawks up 16-13.
Natalie Randolph would get a kill for a side out and Makayla Morrison’s attack went long at the back corner. Randolph would then score on five straight with the help of a couple big blocks up front to give HTC an 18-16 lead. After a side out exchange, Mary Kate Bendlage would serve out the game uninterrupted as HTC went on to win the second game 25-17.
Holy Trinity would run away with the tiebreaker going up by as much as 9-3 early and pushing that lead to a 15-9 win for the match.
“She did very well. She was hitting that line and she was on fire,” said Central Lee Head Coach Amy Cook.
“There’s just one rotation that we tend to struggle on and that’s where we got caught up on. All in all, I’m actually very proud of the girls. That’s probably the best I’ve seen them play. They wanted it and they kept wanting it.”
Maura Watkins led the way for Central Lee with 12 kills, three block assists, an ace, and three digs. Macy Watkins had 24 assists, nine digs, and two blocks. Alix Congdon had 12 digs and Karissa Moeller had 10 digs.