HTC downs 15th-ranked New London to advance to regional final
BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
FORT MADISON – Brooke Mueller’s hand was all that was between a New London kill attempt and a point.
Time, it seemed, froze when Mueller lunged and got just enough of the ball to keep everything going.
“I started yelling, ‘Up,’ right away,” said Mueller, one of Holy Trinity’s outside hitters.
“As soon as I heard her yelling that, I ran as fast as I could,” middle hitter Kayla Box said.
Mueller’s play became a Holy Trinity point, a crucial moment in the Crusaders’ sweep of New London in Monday’s Class 1A regional semifinal at Shottenkirk Gym.
The 25-20, 25-17, 25-17 win over the 13th-ranked Tigers sent the No. 5 Crusaders (31-10) into Wednesday’s regional final against Lamoni (29-4) at Evans Middle School in Ottumwa. The winner gets a berth in next week’s state tournament in Cedar Rapids.
Mueller’s play was one of many on a night when the defense led to long rallies often won by the Crusaders, a slow and steady grind that wore down the Tigers.
“We knew New London was going to come in and give us everything they’ve got,” Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freesmeier said. “Our kids responded. Defensively, we were good.”
“Tonight we got a lot of momentum,” freshman Teagan Snaadt said. “We played well as a team.”
“It helped us keep our energy and momentum up,” Mueller said.
New London had early leads in each of the three games, but Holy Trinity kept coming back with rallies.
“I was pleased with how we handled the pressure tonight, and we put a lot of pressure on them,” Freesmeier said.
The long rallies were especially crushing.
“It was good to stay in those big long rallies, and we won a majority of them,” Freesmeier said. “It’s tough. When you’re going back and forth, back and forth, you’re hitting, they’re hitting, it’s a big momentum boost for our side when you get those points.”
It showed the confidence the Crusaders had in each other.
“I just want to thank my libero and everyone in the back row, because when I can’t get to the ball, they’re there to get it,” Snaadt said.
The Crusaders had their 10-year state tournament run ended in the regional semifinals by Notre Dame last season. They cleared this hurdle this time by looking more relaxed.
It was fun, Freesmeier said.
“They were just playing volleyball,” Freesmeier said. “Man, when we’re playing volleyball, we’re good. It’s just exciting seeing them become the team they’ve been striving to be all year.”
Box was one of the players with the biggest smiles, especially on one point where she hit a ball she thought was going nowhere. Instead it hit the net, bouncing over and finding an opening in the New London defense.
“When that happened, I didn’t expect it to go over,” Box said, still laughing at the thought. “When it went over, I couldn’t help myself.”
The Crusaders have waited a year to get back to a familiar spot for the program.
“I think this is just giving us motivation, showing we can go back to state,” Mueller said.