CEDAR RAPIDS — The improvement in Claire Pothitakis can be found in her expansive array of shots.
The Fort Madison Holy Trinity junior outside hitter is now generating kills with cross-court shots, sideline strikes and tips to voids in the opposition.
It is a big reason why the Crusaders are in the state volleyball semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
“She mixes it up and she is a leader,” Holy Trinity Coach Melissa Freesmeier said after the eighth-ranked Crusaders upended No. 2 Council Bluffs St. Albert, 25-16, 25-23, 19-25, 25-15, in a Class 1A state quarterfinal match Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center. ”She is just a great leader out there. She has gotten so much better. … She is huge and our middles are letting her do her thing. They are distractions in the middle there, so we are just having fun right now.”
The Holy Trinity offense continually flowed through Pothitakis, especially when the Crusaders needed a way out of a jam. Pothitakis rewarded that strategy with a team-high 22 kills and now has 378 this season, which ranks seventh in 1A.
“It all starts with the pass,” Pothitakis said. “To keep putting the ball in the right spot, that is how you get kills.”
After securing a win in the first set, Holy Trinity found itself behind 17-14 in the second. The Crusaders responded with an 8-1 surge, then closed the set with three of four points to take control of the match, two sets to none.
St. Albert avoided the sweep by rallying from a 17-16 deficit with a 9-2 closing burst in Set 3 and was suddenly on the hunt.
For Holy Trinity, the message after the third set was simple.
“Our ultimate goal is to get to the championship on Friday,” senior right side hitter Avery Hopper said. “We can’t get there if we lose.”
The Crusaders raced ahead in the final set by scoring 13 of the first 15 points. An ace by junior defensive specialist Maria Rauenbuehler completed the upset of the No. 2 team in the state.
“We really don’t think about rankings,” junior outside hitter Katie Denning said. “We just play our game.”
Iowa State recruit Allie Petry led St. Albert (24-10) with 22 kills.
Rauenbuehler paced Holy Trinity with 15 digs, while Kassi Randolph and Bailey Hellweg added 14. Randolph also recorded 21 assists, Hellweg 13.
Holy Trinity (29-10) will play a 1A state semifinal Thursday at 6 p.m. against No. 6 Wapsie Valley.
“Keep the same game plan,” Freesmeier said. “I have got to check these two teams out and see what we have got to go against, put a game plan together and we will come back.”