Azusa Pacific's rise to national volleyball prominence has been unquestionably challenging, but it comes as no surprise that the Cougars' emergence as a volleyball power has taken place under ninth-year head coach Chris Keife, who seized the opportunity to take the helm at Azusa Pacific in 2004 and subsequently elevated the program into consistent national title contention.
The 36-year old Keife has demonstrated the touch of a seasoned coaching veteran, and his personality directly attests to the program's recent success. He is intelligent about the game, utilizing an aggressive system of offense and defense that plays to the various strengths of his student-athletes. The system has proven results, as he has posted 20 wins or more in each of his nine seasons as a collegiate head coach. His attention to detail is evident in his systematic approach and preparation for every practice, match and tournament.
In eight seasons at the helm, Keife's Cougar squads have executed at the program's highest levels in over 20 years, posting some of the program's highest per-set season averages in kills, assists, digs and aces, as well as the best passing percentage in program history. Eighteen All-GSAC selections have played under Keife over the past eight seasons, with 13 earning NAIA All-American recognition.
No other Azusa Pacific volleyball coach had orchestrated four consecutive 20-win seasons or back-to-back NAIA Tournament appearances, yet Keife accomplished both in his first four campaigns. He is also the only Cougar mentor to post eight consecutive winning conference records in the Golden State Athletic Conference, which was widely regarded as the NAIA's toughest volleyball conference. Six of the past eight NAIA titles were claimed by GSAC programs, and the 2007 and 2008 national tournaments featured an all-GSAC final four.
Thus, the fact that Keife was recognized by his conference coaching peers as a two-time GSAC Coach of the Year (2005 and 2009) represents a significant achievement. When he won the award in 2005, his squad registered 26 victories, the highest single-season win total for Azusa Pacific since 1991, and made its fifth NAIA Tournament in program history after notching a third-place GSAC finish with a 14-6 conference mark. Four years later, Keife coached a squad led by 2009 NAIA Player of the Year Jill Baker to the NAIA quarterfinals for just the third time in program history. Even after losing Baker, the program's career and single-season kills record holder, in 2010, Keife guided the Cougars to the program's third-highest win total in a 29-8 campaign that resulted in yet another deep NAIA Tournament run (playoff round).
Keife raised the bar even higher in 2011, setting the program's regular-season wins record (28) en route to a 31-8 campaign which represented the fourth-highest win total in program history and the most wins in a season since 1991. The Cougars won 14 of 16 to close out the regular season, then registered a trio of five-set wins in national tournament play while advancing all the way to the NAIA quarterfinals. Keife notched a pair of 200-win milestones in 2011, collecting his 200th overall coaching win in the most one-sided victory Azusa Pacific had ever posted in the 25-point rally scoring format, a 25-4, 25-17, 25-9 win over Concordia (N.Y.) before notching his 200th win at Azusa Pacific with a five-set win over Grand View (Iowa) during national tournament pool play. All three of the Cougars' national tournament wins came in five sets, helping run the program's record in five-set matches to 23-3 over the past three seasons.
Consistency has become a signature characteristic of Keife-coached teams. His players have earned 11 NAIA Scholar Athlete awards, and his 2008 squad was awarded the NAIA Tournament Champions of Character team award, reflecting the emphasis Keife places on his players' complete development as student-athletes. For five consecutive years, Azusa Pacific has been recognized as an NAIA Scholar Team (team GPA over 3.0), most recently posting a 3.32 team GPA in 2011.
In 2004, his first season at Azusa Pacific, Keife led the Cougars to a 20-13 overall record and an 11-9 GSAC mark, good enough for the first of three straight top-four conference finishes. In 2005, Azusa Pacific earned the program's first NAIA Tournament berth since 2000 with a 26-11 campaign, which included a pair of victories in national tournament pool play. Keife delivered a fourth-place GSAC finish in 2006, good enough to get the Cougars back to the NAIA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. In 2007, Keife navigated Azusa Pacific to a 21-10 campaign and a No. 5 final national ranking, and he picked up his 100th career coaching victory that year with a five-game come-from-behind road win over the NAIA's No. 7-ranked Point Loma Nazarene on Sept. 29, 2007, his 159th match as a head coach.
In 2008, his Cougars went 25-11 and returned to the NAIA Tournament for the program's third appearance in four seasons, where they cruised through pool play with a trio of three-set sweeps to advance out of pool play at the national tournament for the first time since 1991's appearance in the national quarterfinals.
Keife came to Azusa Pacific after one season at Hope International, where he orchestrated a stunning turnaround in his first collegiate head coaching assignment. Keife guided the Royals to their best season in school history in any sport, the first NAIA playoff appearance for any team in school history, along with the volleyball program's first-ever winning campaign.
Prior to his season at Hope International, Keife was a two-year (2001-02) volunteer assistant for nationally-respected head coach Mick Haley at NCAA Division I power University of Southern California, a stint that culminated in the Trojans' 2002 NCAA National Championship.
Keife was also an assistant for five seasons at his alma mater Whittier Christian High (1996-2000), where he coached former Azusa Pacific players Jenna and Joelle Sagehorn, and he coached for three seasons (2000-02) in the Asics Nova Volleyball Club.
Keife, a 1999 Cal State Fullerton graduate who earned his master's degree in physical education from Azusa Pacific in December 2003, also teaches in the university's department of exercise & sport science. He and his wife, Becky, were married in 2005, and the couple resides in Glendora with their two sons, Noah (born December 2008) and Elias (born July 2010).