AZUSA, Calif. -- Other than a forgettable opening game, the NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Azusa Pacific wrapped up the opening round of the Golden State Athletic Conference volleyball schedule in style, posting a 16-30, 30-28, 30-21, 30-21 victory over No. 18-ranked Vanguard Saturday afternoon at the Felix Event Center.
Sophomore outside hitter Jill Baker led the way for the Cougars, whose only conference defeats along the way to a 6-4 conference record at the halfway point of the GSAC schedule are to the NAIA’s top 4 teams. Baker registered match-highs of 24 kills and 5 aces, and freshman outside hitter Chelsea Daley added a 12-kill, 12-dig performance.
In the opening game, Azusa Pacific registered just 8 kills while committing 13 errors. From the second game on, the Cougars were much more efficient, putting down 54 kills with only 20 errors for a .266 hitting percentage over the final 3 games. Junior opposite hitter Megan Burch and sophomore middle blocker Tara Chambers led Azusa Pacific’s resurgence on the offensive side of the ball, with the pair combining for 20 kills and just 4 errors from games 2 through 4.
Burch was the third Cougar to reach double-digits with 11 kills, while Chambers finished with 9 kills. Senior libero Alison Pattison recorded a match-high 18 digs, and junior setter Allison Kincheloe collected 16 digs to go with her 53 assists while running the Cougar offense. Junior defensive specialist Laura Stiles contributed 7 digs in action off the bench in all 4 games.
In the opening game, Azusa Pacific trailed by just 2 points at 10-8 when Vanguard reeled off 5 straight points and finished the game on a 20-8 run to post the lopsided 30-16 win.
The Cougars answered in Game 2, jumping out to a 9-2 lead before a 6-point Vanguard run that contained 5 Cougar attack or service errors brought the Lions to within a point at 9-8. Clinging to a slim 14-13 advantage, Azusa Pacific scored 6 of the next 7 points for a 20-14 lead. The Lions battled back one last time to a 28-28 tie before junior middle blocker Kelsey Knudsen and Baker recorded back-to-back kills to even the match at 1 game apiece and avoid the 2-game deficit.
Azusa Pacific never trailed in the third game, using a 13-3 run midway through the frame to take a commanding 20-8 lead after back-to-back Lion errors. The Cougars trailed by 2 points midway through the fourth game, the last time at 17-15, before reeling off a 15-4 run to close out the match. Chambers and Daley put down back-to-back kills for the final 2 points that clinched the victory.
With the win, Azusa Pacific wraps up the first round of the 20-game conference schedule with a 6-4 mark in GSAC play, 13-5 overall, while Vanguard drops to 4-6 in conference play, 6-9 overall. The Cougars open the second round of GSAC play on Tuesday, Oct. 9, when they host 7-time defending GSAC champion Fresno Pacific, which also happens to occupy the top spot in this week’s NAIA coaches poll.
Azusa Pacific rallied from 2 games down to send the teams’ first meeting of the season to a decisive fifth game, where the Sunbirds ending up extending a home win streak that has now reached 81. It was the first time in over 6 years that a visiting team had taken Fresno Pacific to 5 games after the Sunbirds won the first 2 games.