AZUSA, Calif. – After claiming a large early lead in Friday’s quarterfinal victory over a first-year National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA) program from Gannon University, it would have been understandable for second-seeded Azusa Pacific to back off a little and leave something extra for tomorrow’s semifinals.
That’s not how the Cougars chose to finish, however, and the result was a win by nearly 20 points, the largest winning margin posted by any team in the quarterfinal round of the 2014 NCATA National Championships and the largest winning margin in the four-year history of Azusa Pacific’s acrobatics and tumbling program. The Cougars tallied 283.225 points to Gannon’s 263.300-point effort for a final margin of 19.925 points, which exceeded the 18.6-point winning margin posted earlier in the day by three-time defending NCATA national champion University of Oregon.
“I had no doubt that our team would be ready to go tonight, but what I didn’t want to happen was to have them start thinking about tomorrow before taking care of today,” Azusa Pacific head coach Colleen Kausrud said. “I didn’t want them looking ahead; I just wanted them looking at tonight against a brand-new team we had never seen before. They took the challenge very seriously, and they’re proving themselves to be a performance team.”
Oregon will meet Baylor in Saturday’s first semifinal, while Azusa Pacific meets third-seeded Quinnipiac, which edged another NCATA first-year program, Hawai‘i Pacific, by just over a point to clinch its spot in the semifinal opposite the host Cougars. Azusa Pacific and Quinnipiac will compete head-to-head in NCATA National Championships action for the fourth consecutive year. The Bobcats won last year and in 2011, while the Cougars won in 2012 for its only other NCATA nationals victory in program history before Friday night’s convincing win.
Azusa Pacific won all but one heat of the entire meet, jumping out to a commanding 4.25-point lead at the end of the four-heat compulsory event to open the quarterfinal matchup with one of four first-year programs participating in the championship tournament.
“Being able to host this tournament gives me the chills because of what it represents to host a championship with new schools whose programs are where we were not all that long ago,” Kausrud said. “They’re building very quickly, and you can tell they have the talent to get very competitive very fast. You can’t take any of these new programs lightly.”
The Cougars notched a perfect 10 in the compulsory pyramid heat and added another nine-tenths of a point to the lead with wins in the acro and pyramid events, giving the lively crowd of 1,314 plenty of reasons to celebrate.
“Our athletes couldn’t wait to compete for this crowd,” Kausrud said. “This is home for us. I’m probably biased in saying this, but I really think this championship is the most well-run, organized tournament we’ve participated in the last four years. Having the crowd behind us, and the support we get is a huge bonus.”
After winning each of the toss heats by at least a half-point margin, Azusa Pacific put the meet out of reach with a solid effort in six heats of tumbling, including a 9.95-point score from sophomore Ahnaliese Spitzer in the solo aerial pass. Three other tumbling heats registered 9.85 scores or better, including solo passes from senior Jessica Laughton (six element) and sophomore Jamie Montgomery (open).
By the time the team event rolled around, Azusa Pacific’s lead was over 15 points, and for good measure the Cougars posted a 98.65 in the team event, its third consecutive meet with a team event score over 98 points. Azusa Pacific’s scores in three of the six events (acro, pyramid, and toss) represented season-highs.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves its all-time best season record to 6-2 heading into Saturday’s semifinal matchup. The winner of each semifinal matchup moves on to Saturday night’s national championship match at 7:30 p.m.