JANESVILLE

Lauren Glissendorf and her teammates have learned to embrace the chaos.

Very little has come easy for the senior libero and the Janesville Craig volleyball team.

Case in point: On Tuesday against visiting Beloit Memorial, the Cougars trailed in the third set 14-2, eventually had a serve for match point, wound up losing the set and then needed 31 points in the fourth to pull off a Big Eight Conference victory.

“We call it the Cougar way; we never like to finish—it’s funny like that,” Glissendorf said. “We’ve been working to try and figure out how to finish, and we’re getting better at it sometimes.”

Indeed, eventually Craig evened its Big Eight record at 1-1 by winning 25-21, 25-17, 24-26, 31-29.

And after falling five days earlier in five sets to Middleton in a match the Cougars probably feel they should have won, a victory—wild as it might have been—was a step in the right direction.

“As long as we keep learning and growing, we’re going to be fine,” Craig coach Blake Budrow said.

“We got rid of some of the mistakes we’ve been making, but we’re still making some of them, too.”

The Cougars spent much of their night coming from behind.

They trailed 18-15 in the first set before scoring 10 of the final 13 points. Back-to-back kills from sophomore Britten Bertagnoli gave Craig a 23-21 lead, and sophomore McKaylie Justman followed with an ace to completely seize control.

The Cougars breezed through the second set, but Budrow did his best to encourage his players not to put their game in cruise control. Perhaps easier said than done, the Purple Knights blazed out to a 14-2 lead. Junior Rebekkah De Kok forged the way, with four of her match-high six aces and two of her match-high 17 kills coming during that stretch.

“That’s volleyball: There’s no time clock, you can’t sit on the ball and you’ve got to score points,” Budrow said. “It’s a totally different sport that way, which is why it’s fun but also frustrating.”

Craig, though, clawed all the way back. It scored 10 of the next 14 points to get within striking range. Later, down 23-17, the Cougars scored seven straight points—six of them scored on the serve of senior Taylor Morgan—to gain a lead.

Morgan served for match point, but Beloit dropped a shot on the back line to stay alive, then won the next two points to force a fourth set.

“This is two (matches) in a row where we’ve had tight, tight sets and are pushing,” Beloit coach Kim Gamble said. “But we’re at the point where we have to figure out how to finish, and we need to get over that hump.

“Mentally, we need to get there. We haven’t had a great record for how many years, and we finally have a team that’s ready to compete.”

The Purple Knights gave the Cougars all they could handle again in the fourth.

Craig led 10-5, but Beloit answered with a 6-0 run, and the teams went back and forth from there. The Cougars trailed 24-22 but staved off a pair of set points, thanks in part to the serve of junior Sophia Vitaioli.

“I was impressed with Soph and McKaylie Justman that last game,” Budrow said. “They had a couple nice roll shots to the middles, because they were giving us that. We were telling the girls to hit line or hit there, and when we do things correctly, it looks pretty good.”

From there, it was survival mode. Craig could not finish the match when it was up 25-24, but it avoided dropping the set when down 26-25 and 27-26. The Purple Knights stayed alive when down 28-27, 29-28 and 30-29, but they could not make it four in a row as the Cougars held on.

Bertagnoli and senior Rachel Bonham led Craig with nine kills apiece. Abby Trapp had 20 assists. Glissendorf and Vitaoli had seven digs each.

“It’s crazy, but it’s fun out there,” Glissendorf said. “We’ve just got to keep the energy up and be positive.

“We’re just looking for what clicks. ... It’s been a fun learning experience with such a young team. But it’s all good. I’m having a blast.”

CRAIG 3, BELOIT 1

Beloit Memorial 21 17 26 29

Janesville Craig 25 25 24 31

Beloit leaders: Aces—Rebekkah De Kok 6. Kills—De Kok 17. Assists—Meghan Drucker 38. Blocks—Jackie Pabst 5. Digs—Kylee Arn 15.

Craig (aces-kills-assists): McKaylie Justman 3-6-1, Taylor Tompkins 1-0-0, Julia Masterson 0-0-8, Taylor Morgan 3-3-0, Kelly Hanson 0-2-0, Abby Trapp 0-0-20, Lauren Glissendorf 1-1-2, Sophia Vitaoli 4-1-0, Rachel Bonham 1-9-0, Taia Hodgkinson 0-4-0, Britten Bertagnoli 0-9-0.

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