BARABOO — A win was there for the taking Thursday night at Baraboo High School.
The Baraboo and Portage volleyball teams both made their cases for it. The host Thunderbirds made theirs last, closing the Badger North Conference match with an 8-2 run to cap off a come-from-behind 25-17, 22-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-9 win over Portage in a matchup of teams that entered the night winless in conference play.
There was little separating the teams, who had both been 0-3 in Badger North action, all night. In the end, Baraboo made enough plays to pick up its first conference win.
“I had a big meeting with the girls yesterday about it being such a mental game,” first-year Baraboo coach Mandy Brice said. “Their intensity usually determines the match. We talked about focusing on every single point, and every single contact. Let it go if you make a mistake and come back and get the next point. I think that helped. They looked like a whole new team. … Our intensity was up.”
The teams traded points until Baraboo’s McKenzie Gruner got going midway through the first set. The sophomore recorded a kill to ignite a 3-0 Baraboo run that gave the T-Birds a 17-13 lead and forced a Portage timeout.
The break didn’t slow Gruner down, as she came out of the timeout and had back-to-back kills to stretch Baraboo’s lead to 19-13. Portage’s McKena Yelk ended the 5-0 run with a kill, then Gabrielle Garrigan notched a kill that brought the Warriors within 19-16.
The T-Birds went back to Gruner, who recorded a kill as Baraboo eventually opened up a 22-16 advantage. Gruner and Kapriece Tollaksen each had a kill to bring Baraboo to set point, then Lauryn Frederick served an ace to give the T-Birds a 25-17 set-one win.
The second and third sets both started at 20, as neither team could gain control until the stretch run.
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Portage erased a four-point deficit to tie the second set at 20. Then Emma Kreuziger got going. The junior had two kills to tie the set at 20, then another that gave the Warriors a 21-20 lead. After a Portage miss, Kreuziger notched a kill and Gruner recorded a block to tie the score at 22. The Warriors closed the set with three straight points, a block, a Yelk kill and a Kreuziger ace to tie the match at one set apiece.
It was the same story in set three, as Portage won five of the final six points after the teams were tied at 20. The first three points came on Baraboo miscues, then Yelk notched a kill and Baraboo hit one in to the net as Portage claimed the 25-21 set-three win.
Facing an 8-3 deficit in the fourth set, the T-Birds could have folded. They didn’t, rallying to hold an 18-15 lead before Portage tightened it back up. Garrigan recorded a kill to start a 3-0 Warriors’ rally that tied the set at 18 and forced a Baraboo timeout. Katelyn Belleau and Kreuziger had back-to-back kills as Portage opened up a 20-18 lead.
After a Gruner kill, Garrigan and Kreuzer had more kills to stretch the Portage lead to 22-19. This time Baraboo closed strong, scoring six of the final seven points. Four straight Portage miscues gave Baraboo a 23-22 lead. A Kreuziger kill tied it at 23, then Gruner’s kill gave Baraboo a 24-23 lead and Kylie Sprecher had the final kill to give Baraboo a 25-23 win and force a fifth and final set.
The T-Birds also closed strong in the fifth set, breaking a 7-7 tie thanks in part to four Gruner kills as Baraboo claimed the 15-9 win. Gruner finished with a match-high 26 kills, while Gruner and Sprecher shared the Baraboo team lead with four blocks, Jordan Buelow had 40 assists, Frederick had 19 digs and Julia Genna had five aces.
“They just didn’t let up,” Brice said of her team. “McKenzie was absolutely on fire... Jordan was setting dimes again... Our passing wasn’t too bad... But really it was the team came together.”
Yelk had 17 kills, 10 digs, five aces and four blocks for Portage, while Kreuziger finished with 12 kills and six blocks, and Abby Leeland had a team-leading 23 assists.
Portage will return to action at the Iowa-Grant Invitational on Saturday.