Freesmeier: HTC girls need to believe

6th-seed Crusaders take on No. 3 Gladbrook-Reinbeck Tuesday night at 8 p.m.

FORT MADISON - New site, but basically the same Crusaders
Holy Trinity is back at the Class 1A state volleyball tournament, a year after making it to the semifinals. Almost all of the key players from that run are returning to make another bid at a state championship, beginning with Tuesday’s 8 p.m. match against Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
That experience, junior hitter Mary Kate Bendlage said last week, is going to matter.
“The rest of us having been there, we’ll help everyone else calm down,” Bendlage said. “Just let them know it’s the same game. The court is still the same, all the fundamentals are still the same.”
But it will be at a new site — Coralville’s Xtream Arena, ending a 31-year run in Cedar Rapids.
Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freesmeier said that, too, shouldn’t make a difference.
“A lot of these kids have played there, with club (volleyball) and stuff,” Freesmeier said. “It’s a new site, but it’s the same people running it. So it’s going to be a class act, like it always is. It’s a state tournament, so there will be energy all over. It will be fun.”
The Crusaders (29-15), the sixth seed in the eight-team field, are playing their best volleyball at the right time. They have won 22 of their last 30 matches after a 7-7 start, and are coming off a week in which they gutted out four-set wins over WACO in the regional semifinals and over two-time defending champion Notre Dame in Wednesday’s regional final.
“It was good for us,” Freesmeier said of being tested. “We played two solid teams and came out with a victory. I think our kids feel good about where we’ve come from the beginning of the season to now. And I think they are really starting to get that chemistry we’ve been looking for all season, and starting to believe in each other and doing their job.”
The Crusaders have been without junior Natalie Randolph, a key part of last year’s team, all season after she suffered a knee injury. It took a while for the Crusaders’ offense to get accustomed to Randolph’s absence, but that has changed in the closing weeks.
Sophomore Anna Bendlage, who became the Crusaders’ primary setter, has 937 assists. Mary Kate Bendlage has 369 kills, while middle hitter Presley Myers has 307. Add Brooke Mueller (168 kills) and Kayla Box (139 kills) to that mix, and it’s hard to defend against what Holy Trinity does offensively.
That, Freesmeier said, has been a key to their recent run.
“I think we have to do like we did against Notre Dame and WACO, and that’s keep pressure on them, take different shots, give the ball to different players, and just continue to be tenacious on defense,” Freesmeier said.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck (32-9), the third seed, has won nine consecutive matches without losing a set. Ava Wyatt leads the Rebels with 409 kills. Middle hitters Megan Cooley and Kennedy Brant have combined for 447 kills.
“(Wyatt) swings well, plays defense well,” Freesmeier said. “She’s definitely the kid on the team they like to go to.
“They’ve got two pretty good-sized middles. They’re big. They block well. So we’re going to have to be ready to go.”
The Crusaders are thriving on their current momentum.
“We’ve played pretty much together the last few weeks, gotten into a good rotation,” Freesmeier said. “I think these kids are hungry. We’ve got three more. They’re not ready to quit.
“I think it was just about gaining confidence in themselves and in their teammates. That’s been the big thing. They have skills, they have the ability to play volleyball. Just to believe they can do it is the big thing right now.”
HTC, Holy Trinity Catholic, Crusaders, Melissa Freesmeier, Bendlage, Myers, sports, volleyball, state tournament, Coralville, Xtreme Arena, Pen City Current,


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