FRESNO, Calif. -- Classes are not yet in session, but Jill Baker and the Azusa Pacific volleyball team have already done their fair share of writing. Baker, a sophomore NAIA All-American outside hitter, and the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Cougars re-wrote a pair of program records in a season-opening 5-game defeat to Southern Oregon before bouncing back for a pair of wins at the 24th Annual FPU Invitational hosted by Fresno Pacific.
Southern Oregon def. Azusa Pacific, 3-2 (31-33, 22-30, 30-25, 46-44, 15-12)
Baker tallied 34 kills to set the program’s single-match record, and she also collected 18 digs. The previous Azusa Pacific record was 33, set in 2000 by 4-time NAIA All-American Jenna Sagehorn in a 5-game defeat at Concordia. Freshman outside hitter
“It’s an honor, but I don’t feel like it was my best game,” said Baker. “I wish I could have performed better, and I hope that someday I can have a chance to get the record and play well at the same time. It’s more important to contribute to the team in all aspects.”
Chelsea Daley added 30 kills and 16 digs in her collegiate debut.
After winning the first 2 games, 33-31 and 30-22, Southern Oregon bounced back with a 30-25 win in game 3 to send it to what would be a marathon fourth game. Trailing 29-26, Baker recorded back-to-back kills and Briana Sardo’s kill evened the game at 29-29. From there, the game featured 15 ties and 7 lead changes, with neither team able to string together enough points for the required 2-point margin of victory. After a Megan Burch kill tied the game at 44-44, a Cougar service error and subsequent attack error handed the game to the Raiders for a final 46-44 margin.
“I’ve been in some pretty intense matches, but never one as ridiculous as that,” said Baker. “When we came back from 26-29, I had no idea it would go that long. We were able to side out really well, but we couldn’t gain any points because we had so many service errors.”
The Cougars’ previous highest-scoring game was also an early-season battle with Southern Oregon, at the 2003 Fresno Pacific tournament. In that much, Azusa Pacific split the first 2 games before winning the third by a 41-39 tally en route to the 4-game win.
The Cougars never led in the fifth game, surrendering 7 of the game’s first 10 points before tying it twice at 9-9 and 10-10, but Southern Oregon’s offense picked up 5 kills in the final 7 points to seal the match with a 15-12 fifth-game win.
Despite registering 20 more kills than Southern Oregon, the Cougars committed twice as many attack and service errors than the Raiders. Junior setter Allison Kincheloe finished with a team-high 22 digs to go with a career-high 76 assists, while senior libero Alison Pattison chipped in with 20 digs, her fifth career 20-dig performance.
Azusa Pacific def. Holy Names, 3-0 (30-27, 30-19, 30-9)
Led by a nearly flawless encore performance from Daley, Azusa Pacific ran away with a 3-game sweep over Holy Names. Daley collected 17 kills without an error in 28 attempts, registering a .607 attack percentage. The Cougar single-match attack percentage record of .688 was set by Chelsea Morgan in 2004, when she posted 22 kills in an error-free 32 attempts in a 4-game win over Biola.
“(The college game) is more of a fast-paced game than what I’m used to,” said Daley, who played throughout the summer for a club team coached by former Azusa Pacific assistant Rob Machan. “The transition has been somewhat smooth, because I had already been exposed to all the techniques Coach Keife is teaching.”
Baker chipped in with 13 kills and a team-high 10 digs, while junior middle blocker Kelsey Knudsen recorded 7 kills and a team-high 4 blocks for the Cougars.
Azusa Pacific def. Oregon Tech, 3-1 (30-27, 30-28, 26-30, 30-21)
For the third straight match, Baker and Daley led the way for the Cougar offense, combining for 43 of Azusa Pacific’s 68 kills.
Baker again posted the match-high with 22 kills to go with 14 digs, while Daley added 21 kills on 72 attempts.
“I’m really impressed with how Chelsea is doing,” said Baker. “I remember being in the same spot last year, so it’s really good to have a freshman who can make that kind of impact on our team right away. It’s great to know that as good as she is right now, she is only going to continue to get better.”
Senior Brianne Huff added 8 kills, while Pattison was the match’s digs leader with 22. Kincheloe finished with 61 assists and added 3 service aces, 3 blocks and 6 digs for the Cougars.
On the weekend, Baker led Azusa Pacific with 69 kills, adding 42 digs and a team-high 8 aces. Daley was right behind Baker with 68 kills, 29 digs and 5 aces. After 3 matches, Pattison is the Cougars’ digs leader with 49, while Knudsen registered a team-high 7 blocks. Kincheloe’s 192 assists brought her career total to 3,668, just 901 shy of the program’s career mark.
The Cougars open the season 2-1 and return to action for 5 matches in the Empire State next week. Azusa Pacific visits Daemen (N.Y.) College on Wed., Aug. 29, before returning to a tournament setting in 4 matches hosted by Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.