No. 5 Crusaders cruise to Class 1A Region 8 title without dropping a game
BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
OTTUMWA — The sting that had lasted a year was gone.
When Kassi Randolph’s kill landed for the final point of Wednesday’s Class 1A regional final, Holy Trinity celebrated a win they had wanted to cleanse the disappointment of last season.
The Crusaders were going back to the state tournament.
Holy Trinity swept Lamoni, 25-9, 25-10, 25-18 at Evans Middle School, a season after the program’s 10-year streak of making it to the state tournament was snapped by Notre Dame in the regional semifinals.
The enter the state tournament as the #4 seed and will take on No. 5 Janesville (25-15) at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Burlington Notre Dame is the top seed in Class 1A and the Nikes play No. 8 Tri Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The winners of those two games will play Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Others in the Class 1A bracket include No. 2 Gehlen-Catholic, No. 3 Springville, No. 6 Gladbrook-Reinbeck and No. 7. North Tama
“It means a lot,” Randolph said. “When we didn’t make it (last year), it was really disappointing. So we spent the summer, the whole season, working really hard. We had a lot of goals, and we did it tonight. We accomplished our goals.”
“I think not getting to go last year, we were all upset,” sophomore Mary Kate Bendlage said. “Really upset. Getting a chance this year is really exciting.”
“I tried not to bring it up, because you play one game at a time,” coach Melissa Freesmeier said. “But it’s in the back of your head, it’s in the back of theirs.”
The Crusaders (32-10) swept through the regionals, taking down Seymour, No. 13 New London, and Lamoni without dropping a game.
It’s a journey that has been built through the season — rough early patches now long forgotten.
“I feel like we really grew, really connected, about halfway through the season,” senior libero Anna Sobczak said. “We did have some tough losses. But we regrouped, refocused, and got it done.”
“Right when postseason started, we realized we had the talent,” Bendlage said. “We all started trusting each other more. At the beginning of the season, we struggled as a team. Now we have that bond.”
“Each practice, we would come in, hold each other accountable,” Randolph said. “We wanted to get better. We wanted to practice, work on things. And we did that.”
The Crusaders never let Lamoni (29-5) get anything going. They scored the first six points on the opening game, and built an 18-7 lead in the second.
It was during the break after taking the second game when Freesmeier’s message was simple.
Holy Trinity led 19-15 in the third game as the Demons made a final rally. Freesmeier called a timeout, and then after Lamoni scored the next point, the Crusaders ran off four consecutive points. Reagan Holvoet and Randolph had kills in that run, and the Demons were finished.
The Crusaders are a mix of veteran players who have experienced the crucible of the state tournament, and young players who will get their first look at a stage so familiar to the program.
“We have a team that can go a long way,” Bendlage said.
“Especially as a senior, this means a lot,” Sobczak said. “I’m really excited to go back.”
“Yeah, we have a lot of momentum,” Randolph said. “We want to bring that to the state tournament, keep that energy, the focus. And I think we’ll do good things.”
Freesmeier’s voice cracked as she talked about what her team had accomplished one season after a painful elimination.
“These kids work every day,” she said. “Work their tails off. After last year, it was disappointing.
“But this is awesome. Just awesome.”
Natalie Randolph 12, Kassi Randolph 6, Mary Kate Bendlage 5, Brooke Mueller 5, Kayla Box 5, Reagan Holvoet 1.
Box 5, N.Randolph 5, Holvoet 4, K.Randolph 1, Bendlage 1.
K.Randolph 15, Anna Sobczak 12, Bendlage 9, N.Randolph 9, Mueller 7, Teagan Snaadt 5, Teagan Denning 1.
Mueller 22-22 (3 aces), N.Randolph 14-15 (2 aces), Alexa Dingman 9-10 (1 ace), Sobczak 7-8 (1 ace), Denning 4-4, K.Randolph 10-11.
K.Randolph 20, N.Randolph 11, Sobczak 2, Bendlage 1.