When the Beaver Dam girls volleyball team needed to bear down Thursday night against Portage, it did.
Which was a testament to both teams, really, because even though the Warriors came in winless in Badger North play, they made sure the Golden Beavers had to earn their 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 victory.
“To their credit,” Beaver Dam coach Doug Pickarts said of the Warriors, “they kept playing.
“I just think the difference was, when we needed a kill we have kids who could get them for us. That’s one thing (Portage) struggles with — they (have to) find that kid who can put the ball away consistently, and we have three or four kids who can do that. So I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Beaver Dam was led in kills by Summer Salettel, Sydney Hockey and Haley Allen, with eight apiece.
Portage was led by Emma Kreuziger and McKena Yelk, who had seven and six kills, respectively.
But it was Beaver Dam defensive specialist Kendall Wietzke who finished things off in the first set, getting back-to-back aces for the last two points of the set to put her team in the driver’s seat.
Earlier in the set, Emily Schliesman’s ace followed by a kill from Hocker provided for the last two points in a 7-1 run that gave the Golden Beavers a 13-5 lead — a cushion that would never dwindle to less than three points.
And winning that set gave the Golden Beavers the momentum necessary to surge to a 7-0 lead to begin the second set — a run that began with a kill by Salettel followed by an ace from Jessica Dray and was capped off with a kill by Allen.
Portage, though, didn’t fold. The Warriors gathered themselves and kept things close the rest of the set, ultimately seeing their rally bid end when a kill by Hocker when it was 21-16 sparked a 4-1 run to end things.
Not folding has been a point of emphasis for the Warriors this year — and on Thursday, all that attention given to weathering adversity paid off.
Portage didn’t win any of the three sets, but 7-0 to open the second set was the biggest run Beaver Dam could muster against a Warriors team that’s on the opposite end of the conference standings as the Golden Beavers.
Portage had a run of its own during the third set to put Beaver Dam’s sweep in jeopardy.
Trailing 9-8, the Warriors ripped off a 7-1 run to go in front 15-10 — a run that worried Pickarts and pleased Portage coach Kristin Maass.
“They were being aggressive and we were really working on covering and keeping the ball up, so those were some things that played into (our success) in that third set in particular,” Maass said. “We really have been working this year on trying to eliminate the runs, or shortening the runs. And we did talk about in our huddle at the end (of the game) that we did really work at eliminating the runs tonight, which I also think played to our advantage — not letting them get up by too many at one time.
“Things that we keep focusing on are starting to show.”
Portage’s 7-1 run in that third set forced Pickarts to call his only timeout of the contest.
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And Beaver Dam responded, answering with its own 7-1 run to go back in front 17-16.
Portage did tie the contest at 17-all and 18-all, but then the Golden Beavers pulled away and won it when Hocker’s ace made it 24-21 and a Warriors hitting error ended things.
“I don’t think (our girls) ever felt they were going to lose this match, or lose a set. But I know how volleyball goes — sometimes you get in a rut and you can’t get out of it — and I didn’t want to give them a chance to win one and get some momentum.
“I’ve seen that happen, so credit to our kids, when they needed to step up they did.”
And in so doing, the Golden Beavers assured Wietzke, Dray, Marin Stauffacher, Hocker, Emily Schliesman, Salettel and Bre Krenz of it being a fun and successful Senior Night — which four years ago when those seven started in the program looked like a pipe dream as Beaver Dam went 0-14 in the Little Ten Conference in 2016.
The Golden Beavers improved to 2-5 in conference in year one in the Badger North in 2017, and they were 2-5 again last year in Pickarts’ first year leading the program.
After impressive road wins over Mount Horeb and Reedsburg — who were both ahead of Beaver Dam in the conference standings at the time — last week coupled with this win over Portage, the Golden Beavers flipped the script and finished this year tied with DeForest for second place at 5-2.
Mount Horeb and Reedsburg finished tied for third at 4-3, with all four teams behind unbeaten conference champ Waunakee.
“I love my seniors. They’ve come a long ways. Some of them played through the awful years — four years ago I think it was when they weren’t very good at all. So they’re starting to see positives,” Pickarts said. “And we have some talented kids, so hopefully we keep going this year and keep doing some great things.”
It may have been an impressive loss to Waunakee at a tournament in West Bend two weekends ago that jump-started this strong finish.
The Golden Beavers “got crushed the first set,” Pickarts said, before rallying to win set two. Set three was close, but Beaver Dam lost it 15-12.
“And our kids said, ‘You know, we can play with them if we bring that kind of energy.’” Pickarts said. “So we’re hoping that good things happen for us Saturday (at the conference tournament). It’s not going to be easy — there’s a lot of teams in our position. And that’s what makes it fun.”
BEAVER DAM 3, PORTAGE 0</&hspag3>
Portage 18 17 21
Beaver Dam 25 25 25
Portage leaders: Kills — Emma Kreuziger 7, McKena Yelk 6. Assists — Abby Leeland 11, Katelyn Belleau 8. Aces — Gabrielle Garrigan 1. Blocks — Emma Kreuziger 1, McKena Yelk 1, Anna Kratz 1. Digs — Gabrielle Garrigan 10, Lexi Schmelzer 10.
Beaver Dam leaders: Kills — Summer Salettel 8, Sydney Hocker 8, Haley Allen 8. Assists — Emily Schlieseman 21. Aces — Jessica Dray 3, Sydney Hockey 2. Blocks — Summer Salettel 3, Haley Allen 2. Digs — Sydney Hocker 15, Haley Allen 15.