CORALVILLE — Melissa Freesmeier has taken enough teams to the state volleyball tournament that she knows the routine for preparation.
The Holy Trinity coach knows different teams need a different level of attention. This season’s version, though, is full of enough experience that the routine is simple.
“This group, they’re smart, they’re dedicated, and they love the game of volleyball,” Freesmeier said. “They know what this is all about.”
Holy Trinity, the No. 3 seed in the Class 1A tournament, opens play in Tuesday’s 8:25 p.m. quarterfinal against sixth seed Don Bosco at Xtream Arena in Coralville.
The Crusaders (31-10) are making their third consecutive appearance, and they want to stay around a little longer this season after getting eliminated in the quarterfinals last season.
“We really have a ton to prove,” said sophomore middle hitter Presley Myers. “Last year, we lost in the quarterfinals, and I think that’s really boosting us, pushing us to work hard, and get back to prove that we can do better than we did last year.”
It’s only the second year the tournament has been at Xtream Arena, but a big stage is a big stage no matter the location.
Holy Trinity, with three seniors and two juniors in their rotation, understands the crucible of the week.
“I think going into it, we need to stay calm,” senior outside hitter Mary Kate Bendlage said. “Sometimes when we go up there, we get there and we’re a little jittery. It’s a bigger stage, more people. We just need to stay calm, do the things we do in practice, and we’ll be just fine.”
“I think (playing at Xtream Arena last season) will give us a feel for the environment,” senior Taegan Denning said. “Last year, it was obviously a new place, it was kind of different. But now that we’ve played there, I think we’re a lot more comfortable and we know what to do.”
That kind of experience eases the mind of their coach.
“They’ve been there,” Freesmeier said. “You just want them to go in with confidence and just be able to play their best volleyball — leave it out on the court. And, you know, I really think that if we do that, the game is going to go well for us. Right now we're playing at our best, and I hope we can keep that going into tomorrow and then see what happens.”
The Crusaders have seized October to earn the program’s 16th state tournament berth. They have only lost one set in four postseason matches, and are coming off a three-set domination of 13th-ranked Edgewood-Colesburg last Wednesday.
Holy Trinity’s offense is hard to defend. Myers leads the Crusaders with 309 kills. Bendlage had 290. Senior Natalie Randolph has 181 kills while also leading Holy Trinity with 446 assists. Junior Anna Bendlage has 104 kills and 400 assists.
Randolph missed all of last season with a knee injury, and she’s been dealing with knee pain all of this season.
“She’s playing her best volleyball right now,” Freesmeier said. “When you think about just 3 1/2 short weeks ago, we weren't even sure if she was going to step back on the floor. She was in so much pain, but just to watch her get better and better every night is fun for us. When she's out there with confidence, the kids just thrive off of those things.”
Don Bosco (24-16), ranked 10th, has won nine of its last 10 matches. Kennedi McGarvey leads the Dons with 339 kills. Alexis Even has 327 kills. Emily Naughton leads with 62 blocks.
“A lot of their offense comes from the outside,” Freesmeier said. “They got two kids that swing really well out there and then they've got a kid in the middle, so they have three solid hitters who they share the ball with. We are a little bigger than they are, which doesn't happen very often, but which is nice.
“Our game plan is to go in and serve aggressively. Move our offense around and try to really keep them on their toes and be the aggressor. And if we do that, I think good things can happen.”
That kind of confidence, Myers said, is going to be important.
“I feel at state last year we got down on ourselves,” she said. “And you have to have so much confidence going into that gym. It’s another team that’s just as good as you, maybe better than you. So you have to go in and have your heads high, and know that you can do anything.”