The tears and hugs were for the cruelty of the finality.
Holy Trinity’s three-set loss to Ankeny Christian in Thursday’s Class 1A state volleyball championship match set off sadness for the Crusaders.
Not because of a lack of effort or a failure of execution, but more from the reality of the postseason.
Forty teams in five classes showed up at Xtream Arena for the state tournament. Thirty-five of them left with a loss.
Those are never good odds in the crucible of the postseason, but hopes grow with each step, and the Crusaders took every step but the last one.
That, junior libero Teagan Snaadt said, was something to appreciate.
“It hurts,” Snaadt said. “But we worked hard all year, and we can’t dwell on what we didn’t do great today, but what we did (all season).”
The Crusaders won 33 matches overall. They did not lose a match in the SEI Superconference South Division, an impressive zero in a division loaded with talent.
Their postseason run was almost perfect until the championship match — only one set lost in the four regional matchups and in the first two rounds at the state tournament. It was an efficient, surgical stretch — some of the wins were dominant, others were by a strategy of steadiness, keeping pace with an opponent until a weakness could be found to exploit.
And then the final round came against an opponent that had lost only three times this season and was looking to repeat as champion.
Ankeny Christian’s defense was a blanket that seemed to get to every Crusader shot. Holy Trinity had just 29 kills in the three sets, unable to cut the lines of power to the Eagles’ hitters, who produced 45 kills.
“At the end of the day,” Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freesmeier said, “they were just better than us tonight.”
The finish did not diminish what Holy Trinity accomplished, and the week was a celebration of that and the history of the program. Assistant coach Mikaela (Foecke) Richter went into the IGHSAU’s Hall of Fame before the championship match, and the Crusaders stayed behind after pre-game warmups to watch the ceremony.
“It was well-deserved,” Freesmeier said. “She’s a great person, she was a great player, it’s great to have her with us as she teaches younger kids how to be present in a game.
“She’s one of a kind.”
One of more poignant post-game moments came when senior hitter Mary Kate Bendlage hugged her sister, Anna, a junior starter who will be a key part of next year’s run. The two cried as they embraced, and then a few minutes later they hugged again.
“After the game, we just kind of had a little chat of like, hey, it won't be the same next year, but you're going to do great at what you're doing and I’m going to be doing great at what I’m doing,” said Mary Kate, who will play volleyball at Mount Mercy University next season. “We’ll still be there to support each other.
“Anna and I are really, really close. We don't argue much, we get along super well on the court and we lean on each other a lot after one of us makes a mistake. There's a lot of chit-chat that goes on between us that I don't think people realize that bond that no one else has on the team because they don't have siblings who are out there on the floor. So that's something special.”
The Crusaders waited to receive their state runner-up trophy, holding it up high because they knew what it meant. Second isn’t first, but it’s still a heck of a run.
And then they walked off the court, leaving the Eagles to their celebration.
No one, it seemed, looked back, because they didn’t leave anything behind.