While it hasn’t been reflective in the record books, the Portage volleyball team has put together some of its best play in recent weeks.
The Warriors put up another tough effort Thursday night but were again forced to settle for another loss in the form of a 25-12, 25-8, 25-14 defeat at the hands of Waunakee in a Badger North Conference game at Portage High School. Senior McKena Yelk had a team-high four kills, while senior Abby Leeland dished out five assists and three aces in the straight-sets loss, Portage’s fourth straight to Waunakee.
“I think we played some really good volleyball tonight. We had quite a few touches on some balls, not any stuff blocks, but we had a lot of touches that definitely helped our back row and they’re a good team,” Portage coach Kristin Maass said.
“I thought we did some really good things and I don’t think the score was quite as reflective as the effort the girls put in tonight.”
After dropping the first two sets, Portage (5-17, 0-5 Badger North) stumbled out of the gates in the third with Waunakee staking its way to a quick 13-5 lead, including three kills from senior Jocelyn Meinholz. Portage buckled down, however, answering with five straight points before eventually pulling within 15-12 on a block kill from Yelk.
A Waunakee carry made it 17-13 but that was as close as Portage got. Waunakee (20-7, 4-0) rattled off four consecutive points, including a pair of aces from senior Hayley Krysinski, to go up 21-13.
A serve into the net cut the lead to 21-14 and gave Portage life but it was quickly taken away as Waunakee scored the final four points on two kills by senior Milla Malik and consecutive aces by junior Mariah Best to cap the three-set sweep.
The Waunakee serve flustered Portage throughout the match and made things difficult for Portage to get into its offense.
“Our serve receive wasn’t horrible, but we weren’t able to get our middles going because we were just enough out of system. When we can’t get our middles going, it’s really easy to run a defense of putting your blockers on the outside,” Maass said. “As soon as they knew we didn’t have a pass right to the setter, the middle was going to be out of play and they could go and camp.”
Despite its struggles, Portage hung with the Badger North Conference leaders out of the gates in the opening set as Portage pulled within 8-6 in the early going on a Waunakee net violation and block kill by junior Emma Kreuziger. Waunakee quickly turned the tide in its favor though rattling off five straight points to start an 8-2 run to go up 16-8.
A serve out of bounds gave Portage the ball but it failed to do much with the momentum as Waunakee closed the set on a 9-3 run for a 25-12 win.
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Portage again started strong in the second set, using a 5-3 run to take the early lead, including all three of Leeland’s aces. The momentum fizzled out just as fast as it started as Waunakee responded with eight straight points to take an 11-5 lead and from there closed out the set on a 14-2 run.
Malik, who is orally committed to play at University of Buffalo, tallied a match-high 13 kills, while Meinholz added nine. The duo formed a difficult tandem for the Portage defense to try and cover.
“You’re trying to think that ‘OK, we have this one,’ but then they have another weapon,” Maass said. “It’s hard when you have multiple places you can go to in the front row where it keeps our block honest to the middle or they can pull you in any different and you can’t get a feel for necessarily where they’re going to go.”
Even in the loss, Portage is peaking at the right time after having its previous two five-set matches go the distance. Maass knows that things will ultimately turn her team’s way.
“They’re playing really great volleyball and eventually they’re going to start falling for us,” she said.
Portage returns to action this weekend when it plays host to Lodi, Madison Memorial and Reedsburg in its annual quadrangular.
WAUNAKEE 3, PORTAGE 0
Waunakee 25 25 25
Portage 12 8 14
WAUNAKEE (leaders): Kills — Milla Malik 13. Assists — Sam Miller 20. Blocks — Chloe Larsen 2.5. Aces — Hayley Krysinski 4. Digs — Hayley Krysinski 12.
PORTAGE: Kills — McKena Yelk 4. Assists — Abby Leeland 5. Aces — Abby Leeland 3. Digs — Katelyn Belleau 5.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.