CORALVILLE — Xtream Arena’s bright lights can even affect the most experienced team.
But Holy Trinity has been built for this big stage, and the Crusaders shook off some early nerves to advance in the Class 1A state volleyball tournament.
The third-seeded Crusaders swept Don Bosco 25-21, 25-17, 25-21 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
Holy Trinity (32-10) will play second seed Boyden-Hull (22-11) in Wednesday’s 6:25 p.m. semifinal.
The Crusaders are making their third consecutive state tournament appearance, but they showed some early jitters, falling behind 10-2 in the first set.
“You never know how we’re going to respond to things when we step on the court here,” Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freesmeier said. “It was nerves. We made a lot of mistakes.”
“It’s a new stage, a bigger stage,” senior Mary Kate Bendlage said. “So the nerves got to us the first couple of points.”
But the Crusaders didn’t get this far by being a team that stays rattled. And it turned out the player with the least experience of all got them going.
Freshman Adalyn Kruse’s block with Holy Trinity down 11-6 was part of a five-point run that whittled Don Bosco’s lead.
“We had a big block from Adalyn, and that really lit a fire under us,” Bendlage said.
Kruse, for her part, admitted to her own jitters.
“I was very nervous for myself,” she said. “But I learned how to calm myself and just play.”
The Crusaders just kept chipping at the Dons. A 6-0 run gave them an 18-16 lead, and then scored the final four points of the set — three coming from Bendlage kills — to take control of the match.
“I just think we came together and we were like, ‘Let’s just stop making the mistakes and start playing our game,’” said senior Natalie Randolph. “I think the nerves definitely started to die down and we just came together. We realized we had been in this position and we can come out of it, and I think that definitely helped us.”
Freesmeier said the Crusaders had learned from matches earlier in the season, when they had been tested in the SEI Superconference’s South Division.
“Earlier in the season, we would have allowed those mistakes to define us,” Freesmeier said. “Tonight, we didn’t. I told them that you can’t get all of those points back in one swing. Just play one point at a time.”
Holy Trinity stayed in command in the second set, using a seven-point run to take an 11-5 lead. That left Don Bosco chasing points.
The Dons were within 18-14 before two kills by Kruse ended any momentum.
“She came in there and had some big blocks for us,” Freesmeier said of Kruse, who had seven kills and nine digs. “Sometimes teams forget about her as that second middle (hitter) behind Presley (Myers), but she was huge for us tonight.”
“It feels really great, because I didn’t expect myself to do so good this season, just being a freshman,” Kruse said. “So it really feels good.”
Don Bosco didn’t go away in the third set. Holy Trinity’s biggest lead was 18-13, then the Dons rallied to get within 23-21. Kruse’s tip set up match point, then the Crusaders finished the win.
The victory was big for Randolph, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. She had nine kills in this match, along with 12 assists and 14 digs.
“Last year sitting on the sidelines, it wasn’t any fun,” Randolph said. “Being back on this court, getting a chance to play, that was just great.”
One match down, the Crusaders feel like they’re settled in to stay a little longer.
“I think we’re going to be able to come in tomorrow nerve-free,” Bendlage said. “We know what we’re capable of, and we’ll be ready to go.”
HOLY TRINITY STATISTICS
Kills — Mary Kate Bendlage 11, Natalie Randolph 9, Presley Myers 9, Adalyn Kruse 7, Taegan Denning 3, Anna Bendlage 3.
Assists — A.Bendlage 19, Randolph 12, MK Bendlage 4, Teagan Snaadt 3.
Digs — Snaadt 19, Randolph 14, Denning 12, Kruse 9, A.Bendlage 9, MK Bendlage 8, Myers 6.
Blocks — Myers 2, Kruse 1 ½, Randolph 1 ½, Bendlage 1.