AZUSA, Calif. -- For a team that relies primarily on 2 or 3 consistent hitters, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific showed its versatility in a 4-game win over GSAC opponent Hope International, 30-28, 30-23, 29-31, 30-19 Tuesday night at the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars evenly distributed their 68 kills between 7 different hitters, led by sophomore Jill Baker's team-high 15 kills. However, she was followed closely by juniors Megan Burch and Kelsey Knudsen, who notched 12 and 11 kills respectively, with Burch recording her kills in 31 errorless attempts.
"Some of our leaders did not have as good of a match tonight,” said Cougar head coach Chris Keife. “I was looking to those ladies to step it up, and they did very well."
Games 1 and 2 stayed relatively close, primarily due to a combined 17 errors in the first 2 games.
"I wasn't happy at all with our execution tonight," said Keife. "Most, if not all, of our mistakes were mental errors, and there was just a lack of focus on the court. We did do some things well, but I was hoping that tonight would be a time to fine tune our skills for the Concordia game on Saturday."
One facet of the game that kept the Cougars alive was their serving. Despite 13 service errors, Azusa Pacific also registered 13 aces, its highest single-match total since GSAC play began nearly a month and a half ago.
"I want us to serve hard because we have a lot of good servers," Keefe said. "If I can give up a point to get 2 or 3 out of a server, I'll have them serve aggressive all day long."
Hope International extended the match with a 31-29 win in the third game. While committing 9 errors in game 3, the Cougars also allowed a pair of early 4-point runs by the Royals, forcing Azusa Pacific to battle back from a deficit as high as 6 points at 22-16. After knotting the game at 26-26, the Cougars surrendered a 5-3 run to the Royals, forcing a fourth game.
It was yet another Cougar that stepped up for Azusa Pacific to ensure that Game 4 would end the match. Brianne Huff exploded with 8 of her 11 kills in the fourth game, and the senior outside hitter committed just 2 errors in 17 attempts on the night.
"Brianne, Kelsey and Megan are all solid players," Keefe said. "We'll need them when we go up against the top teams in the conference, so I'm glad they contributed tonight."
The Cougars' next match is Wednesday (Oct. 17) against Bryan College (Tenn.). First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. on the auxiliary court upstairs in the Felix Event Center.