AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA's No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific displayed one of its best defensive outings of the season Tuesday night, defeating Westmont in 4 games, 30-26, 30-19, 26-30, 30-18.
The Cougars matched a scrappy Warrior defense dig-for-dig, edging Westmont by a 95-94 margin, all while taking advantage of an efficient offense, tough serving and effective blocking to post the 4-game win. Sophomore outside hitter Jill Baker led the way with a match-high 22 kills, but senior outside hitter Brianne Huff added a season-high 18 kills and junior right side hitter Megan Burch added 14 kills for Azusa Pacific.
A bevy of Cougars contributed in various ways all over the court, including sophomore middle blocker Briana Sardo, who tallied a career-high 9 kills on the evening. Sardo led the Cougars in the opening-game win with 5 kills, helping set up a balanced offensive tone for the rest of the night. The Cougars rallied off of a 5-0 run to go up 17-11 and held on for a 30-26 win.
Baker led the Cougars to a 30-19 win in the second game, tallying 6 of the team's 15 kills in the game, and Azusa Pacific registered a blistering .378 attack percentage with just 1 attack error in the game. The Cougars also served 3 of their 7 aces of the night and blocked 3 Westmont attacks in the second game.
"You have to give Westmont credit for their performance tonight," said Azusa Pacific head coach Chris Keife. "They played well, but I was really happy with our defense tonight. Overall we were a low-error, high-efficiency team, but our defense was really kicking in."
Game 3 was Westmont's turn to step up the defensive effort, and the Warriors recorded 40 digs in game 3 alone. After the Cougars generated a 5-0 run to go up by an 18-13 margin, Westmont fought back to even the score at 19-19. From there, the teams traded points until late in the match when Westmont finished the game with an 11-5 run to post a 30-26 win and avoid the sweep.
"Westmont did a phenomenal job of defending us and digging a lot of balls," Keife said. "We were hitting the ball pretty hard tonight, and they just did a great job of bringing the ball right back at us."
In Game 4, Azusa Pacific jumped out to a 17-7 lead after back-to-back kills by Sardo and Baker.
"Everything felt like it was flowing tonight," said senior libero Alison Pattison, who collected a team-high 29 digs. "Westmont started playing at a different level in game 3. They were digging everything we were throwing at them. So we mixed it up in game 4 and it seemed to work."
Azusa Pacific made a subtle adjustment to its attacking style for the next game, switching from a powerful attack to tipping the ball over the Westmont block. It was enough of a change to surprise a Warrior defense that seemingly had dug its heels into the court awaiting the big hit. Huff recorded 4 of her kills on 8 errorless attempts in the 30-18 match-clinching victory.
"I didn't expect so many of my kills to be tips," Huff said. "But Coach wanted to change it up, so we did and it worked out well for us."
Huff was one of a handful of Cougars who nearly turned in a career-best performance Tuesday night. Kincheloe tied a personal season-high of 22 digs, matching her season-opening defensive performance in a 5-game defeat to Southern Oregon, and Burch’s 14 kills nearly tied her season-high of 15.
Junior middle blocker Kelsey Knudsen added 5 kills and a match-high 6 blocks for the Cougars. Westmont was led by Malinda Reese’s 40-dig performance, and Laura Trudelle was the only Warrior with double figures in kills with a team-high 18.
"Our success tonight was because of the ladies' discipline and accountability to each other," Keife said. "We work a lot on communication and it paid off tonight."
Azusa Pacific takes on yet another tough GSAC opponent in California Baptist when the Cougars visit Riverside this Thursday at 7 p.m. With tonight's victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 17-7 on the season, including an 8-6 mark in GSAC play.