AZUSA, Calif. – The Cougars put on their hard hat, took their lunch pale to work, and produced a business-as-usual victory as the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific hammered out a 3-game sweep, taking down The Master’s College, 30-24, 30-25, 30-14, in a Golden State Athletic Conference match Thursday evening in the Felix Event Center.
The victory is Azusa Pacific’s 11th 3-game sweep of the season and its second straight, a first in GSAC play this year.
All-American sophomore Jill Baker led the way with a match-high 24 kills, including 12 in the second game alone. Baker was so dominate in her play at the net that no other player from either team reached double-digits in kills.
“Jill is just beginning to realize how good she is,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Chris Keife. “She understands the game more and more and combines that knowledge with her physical ability to be a constant force at the net.”
In the second game, Baker single-handedly took over the match and gave Azusa Pacific some much needed energy after a sluggish start. With the Cougars trailing 9-5, Baker spearheaded a comeback with 5 kills, the fifth tying the game at 16-16. Though back in the game, Azusa Pacific was never able to pull away until Baker strung together 4 more kills in a short flurry that put the Cougars up 28-25. Junior Kelsey Knudsen finished off the game with 1 of her 5 kills to give Azusa Pacific a 2-game advantage.
“I just got everything flowing for me in that second game,” said Baker, who also registered 10 digs and a pair of block assists. “Master’s is a great a defensive team with a great libero, so we wanted to keep them off balance because it’s hard to defend different speeds, and I thought we did a good job with that tonight.”
The momentum that Baker generated in game 2 carried over into a dominating performance in game 3. The Cougars rolled out to a 10-3 advantage using kills from 4 different people and a pair of Laura Stiles service aces to take a commanding lead that only swelled more as the game continued.
“We’ve been working on a lot of different things in practice in preparation for what we have coming,” said Keife, “and we did a good job of executing those things in tonight’s match.”
Junior Megan Burch tallied 9 kills and senior Brianne Huff finished with 8 kills in just 17 attempts. Burch produced back-to-back kills in the first game to get the Cougars over the hump of a poor start.
“We had a lack of focus to start the match,” said Keife, “but once we got into it, we found a rhythm and took our play up a notch as the match continued.”
The victory is Azusa Pacific’s seventh straight over the Mustangs and the 17th in the past 20 meetings between the 2 schools. In addition, the Cougars have now won 9 straight at home over The Master’s, which hasn’t won in the “Canyon City” since 1993.
With the victory, which is the 600th in the program's 33-year history, Azusa Pacific improves to 19-8 overall, 10-7 in the GSAC, to remain in fifth place in the conference, 2 matches behind fourth-place Biola University with 3 matches to play, including one against the Eagles in Azusa on Nov. 6. The Cougars close off the season with home matches against the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University (Nov. 3), and No. 4 Biola before visiting No. 15 Vanguard. They need to win all 3 matches and then get a little help in order to host a first-round match for the NAIA regional playoffs.
“We’re playing very well right now in every aspect of the game,” said Keife. “We’re serving well, which is helping our blocking, and we’re continuing to keep pressure on the opponent by limiting our errors. I think we’re ready for a critical set of games coming up.”
First serve for Saturday’s match vs. Point Loma Nazarene is set for 7 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.