FORT MADISON — The Holy Trinity Catholic High School volleyball team hadn't played a match in 10 days.
Couple that with a touch of rodeo hangover — the Crusaders worked the concession stands at the Tri-State Rodeo the last week — and working in a new setter and it was easy to see why Holy Trinity looked a bit out of sync in Monday's SEI Superconference South Division showdown with rival New London.
When the going got tough, the Crusaders went to their tried and true philosophy — when in doubt, Box it out.
Senior all-state middle hitter Emily Box pounded down a match-high 19 kills and the Crusaders' aggressive serving produced seven errors, lifting Class 1A's fourth-ranked Holy Trinity to a 25-13, 25-21, 25-23 win over ninth-ranked New London at Shottenkirk Gymnasium.
While the Crusaders looked out of sorts at times and made an unusually high number of errors, Box delivered in the clutch again.
"It's an honor to play for this team. I look up to all of the older girls," Holy Trinity's Kassie Randolph said. "We were a little tired, but we really work hard and we're prepared."
"Coming in with only one game and they've had 11, it's tough, but we were ready to play, for sure. You could tell we had to clean off the dust. We'll be ready for the rest of the week. We've got big games coming up in conference and next week is already the conference tournament. We just have to get ready for those," Box said. "Rodeo is a horrible time. We didn't practice for a whole week and it's terrible. Coming into a week where we have four games, it's tough. We're going to be tired by the end of this week, but we just have to keep going."
"You have to work through that," Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freesmeier said. "The kids worked hard this weekend. It's always exciting to play New London. We knew coming in they were going to be defensively sound. We gave them some shots and they dug them up. That's a typical New London team. They are defensively sound, served the ball well and did a lot of nice things."
Holy Trinity (2-0 overall, 2-0 South Division) reeled off 10 straight points to start the match behind the serve of senior Eryn Anderson, who missed just one serve all night while serving up four aces.
"We're in match two so we're not really game ready," Freesmeier said. "But we only missed two serves all night."
"The first game we just couldn't adjust to that serving even though I told them so much about it," New London coach Maureen Heath said. "Anderson has a great serve. We had to get settled down. We started to play and scored 13, but by that point you've dug yourself so much in the hole."
New London (9-2, 2-1) showed its youth in the beginning, but settled down as the match progressed. It was a big step forward for the Tigers and the kind of test they need to see where they are at.
"I'm glad they didn't quit," Heath said. "They're all young and they're all new. We're trying some different things and getting some new people in there. We're going to keep working and pushing."
Randolph, a freshman setter, is trying to find the right chemistry with the Crusaders' experienced hitters, something that will come with time. She put up 24 assists, but it was her kill in the second game and her diving dig in the third which helped propel the Crusaders to victory.
With the second game tied at 20, Randolph ended a long rally with a dump into the middle of the Tigers' defense. Box then followed with three powerful swings to put the game away.
"I saw that the defense slid over too far to the right and I took advantage of that and got the point. That helped us get momentum and helped us win that game," Randolph said. "I saw the hitter tip it and I just went for it. I got it up and our team was ready for it and got it over."
"Kassie and I have been working together all summer," Box said. "We complement each other well. She knows exactly where I want it. It took a little time, but we got her there. We have a long season ahead of us and she'll get even better."
"I have some young kids in there. They more we play, the more they are going to settle in," Freesmeier said. "She's a gamer. She's got a lot of history under her belt and a lot of help. She's going to be a good one. She works hard and she comes ready to learn every day. She's just going to get better and better."
New London stayed with the Crusaders point for point in the third game as sophomore Sofie Reighard came to life with a wicked left-handed swing at the net. Reighard showed the kind of promise the Tigers need with a relatively young team.
"She is a good addition to our lineup that we haven't had for a while with a left-handed girl who can really jump on the right side like that," Heath said. "She's still figuring it all out, but she's not afraid to get up and swing. We were enjoying watching that."
With the Crusaders leading the third game, 24-23, New London seemed to get a kill to tie it at 24. But Randolph lunged headlong on the floor, dug the ball up and Box delivered the final kill to end the match.
"There are a lot of good teams in our conference and that puts more and more pressure on us," Box said. "We've been to state eight times and we want to get there again."
"I knew at the end they were going to go to Box," Heath said. "They have such a great physical presence in her. I thought we dug in and went to work and tried to stay with them and fight with them as much as we could."
"Emily was great as usual. Then Eryn and Claire come up with nine kills apiece. That's huge to have three hitters pushing the ball," Freesmeier said. "This was a good test for us early in the year and we prevailed."
New London hosts Notre Dame on Thursday, while Holy Trinity travels to play the Nikes today before hosting Class 2A's 13th-ranked Van Buren on Thursday. Holy Trinity is now 132-6 at Shottenkirk Gymnasium since the start of the 2007 season.
Kills — Addie Pry 7, Kaylor Schulte 7, Sofie Reighard 6, Paris Wilka 5, Sophie Lounsbury 2, Kristen Rohdy 1
Assists — Rohdy 23, Reighard 1
Serving — Pry 9-9, Chloe Coleman 8-8, Rohdy 7-7, Lounsbury 6-6, Wilka 3-3 (1 ace), Alexa Wenger 12-13 (3 aces), Schulte 7-10 (1 ace)
Blocks — None
Digs — Coleman 21, Rohdy 14, Schulte 8, Wenger 8, Kyra Linkin 8, Pry 5, Marah Hartrick 4
Kills — Emily Box 19, Claire Pothitakis 10, Eryn Anderson 9, Taylor Boeding 2, Katie Denning 2, Kassie Randolph 2
Assists — Randolph 24, Bailey Hellweg 16
Serving — Box 12-12 (2 aces), Boeding 12-12 (1 ace), C.Pothitakis 8-8, Randolph 5-5, Maille Sheerin 1-1, Anderson 24-25 (4 aces), Hellweg 9-10
Blocks — Denning 5, Box 4, Anderson 1, Randolph 1
Digs — Boeding 14, Elyse Pothitakis 12, C. Pothitakis 9, Randolph 9, Box 8, Anderson 7, Sheerin 5, Hellweg 3
Records — New London 9-2 overall (2-1 SEI Superconference South Division), Holy Trinity 2-0 (2-0).