The four golden balloons spelling out 1-0-0-0 were brought out as soon as Holy Trinity finished its three-game sweep of Seymour in Wednesday’s Class 1A regional quarterfinal at Shottenkirk Gym.
It was time to celebrate Melissa Freesmeier’s career milestone win that came Saturday at the Knoxville Tournament. The Crusaders’ coach is one of three in Iowa history to reach the 1,000-win mark, but she wanted to make sure that the honor wasn’t just about her.
“You know, it was good. It was awesome,” Freesmeier said of the post-match ceremony. “The crowd, the people, former players, the parents, the community — they’re wonderful. I’ve said it before — they’re the ones who stood behind me and are the reason for our success here.”
Freesmeier has coached for 30 seasons — 14 at the former Marquette High School, 16 at Holy Trinity. The Crusaders have been the standard for excellence in southeast Iowa — their 10-year run to the state tournament was ended last year, but they have a strong chance of getting to Cedar Rapids this season.
The program has been an assembly line of talent, and a lot of that former talent can be seen on the sidelines, whether at Holy Trinity or at other schools.
“It’s awesome,” Freesmeier said. “Look at the coaches on our bench — they’re all former players. Sara Ragar, our trainer, is a former player.
“That’s the key — it’s like family. We just keep getting bigger.”
The last names on the roster are familiar. Junior Kayla Box is the sister of Emily Box, a former player. Kassi and Natalie Randolph’s sister Ali was a big part of the Crusaders’ success a few years ago.
It’s a chain of success that keeps growing.
Asked what 1,000 wins meant to her, Freesmeier started to answer, but assistant coach Tom Gendron couldn’t resist weighing in.
“Means she’s old,” Gendron joked, and Freesmeier couldn’t help but laugh.
This edition of the Crusaders has had a steady progression this season. Notre Dame, which knocked Holy Trinity out of the regional tournament last season, has been a thorn again this season, but the Nikes are in another bracket and any postseason meeting between the two would have to be at the state tournament if both get there.
Wednesday’s sweep was done quickly — the Crusaders dispatched Seymour in less than an hour.
“We’ve got work to do,” Freesmeier said, and the Crusaders displayed that efficiency.
Sophomore Mary Kate Bendlage has developed into a strong outside hitter. Box is becoming more and more of a presence in the middle. The Randolphs are effective as hitters and setters. Brooke Mueller continues her growth as a hitter, and had six service aces in Wednesday’s win. And there’s another group of young players filling in roles that will only grow in coming years.
The line keeps producing.
One big family of success that can be seen everywhere.
The gaudy win total, symbolized by the shiny balloons, is credited to Freesmeier.
It’s not just her, she insisted.
“We have a family here,” Freesmeier said. “And this belongs to them.”
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports reporter and editor and is a regular contributor to Pen City Current