CORALVILLE — Their media obligations completed, Mary Kate Bendlage and Presley Myers hugged with the sadness that comes with a season ended and a goal denied.
Holy Trinity’s time at the Class 1A state volleyball tournament at Xtream Arena ended not long after it began on Tuesday night, a four-set loss to Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the quarterfinals.
Bendlage, a junior, and Myers, a freshman, know they have another year and a chance at another bid for a state championship.
But they also know that a return isn’t guaranteed, that the best-laid plans can suddenly change, that the way to get to the end of the postseason is to adjust to whatever comes at you in a regular season that never has a straight path from the preseason to the final match.
The fact that the Crusaders were back at state a year after reaching the semifinals wasn’t a surprise. How they got there was a tale of resilience.
“These girls,” coach Melissa Freesmeier said, “they have grit.”
It was back in August when junior Natalie Randolph, a key piece of last season’s team whose role was set to expand, went down with a knee injury in the closing moments of practice.
It took a while for the Crusaders to adjust — they started the season 7-7 — but by mid-September, they had forged a new identity.
Myers became a bigger part of the offense and defense. Sophomore Anna Bendlage, now the lone setter with Randolph’s absence, went from, as Freesmeier put it, being a setter to being the player who ran the offense.
The Crusaders went on a 22-8 run. They rolled through the postseason, including the defeat of two-time defending state champion and long-time thorn Notre Dame in the regional final.
Tuesday’s loss closed one season, and started Holy Trinity on the path to the next one.
“I think this season showed me hard work pays off,” Myers said. “In the moment, maybe you don’t want to do it. But it always pays off.”
“We’re still young, and we’ll build back up for next year,” Freesmeier said. “That’s what we do — we’ll build up for next year.”
The Crusaders lose four seniors — Brooke Mueller, Kayle Box, Alexa Dingman and Laura Mehmert — who not only played key roles on the court in this one, but, Freesmeier said, provided emotional support off the court.
Holy Trinity will be able to play its more traditional 6-2 offense, with Randolph joining Anna Bendlage in running the offense.
“We’re looking forward to getting her back, and her and Anna working together to be two really awesome setters,” Freesmeier said. “These kids have grit, have desire and have want.”
Freesmeier already has the date in her head of when Randolph is expected to be cleared to play.
“July 14,” she said with a smile, noting it would be nine months to the day Randolph had her ACL repaired.
That date is just one of the mileposts in the Crusaders’ next run to another October, a road they know well.
“We’ve got a great program, we’ve got some junior high kids waiting to get a chance,” Freesmeier said. “We’ll rebuild.
“It’s what we always do.”
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports reporter and regular contributor to Pen City Current.