LA MIRADA, Calif. -- Sophomore outside hitter Jill Baker wasted no time getting the 15 kills she needed to set the Azusa Pacific single-season kills record, but not even her match-high 23 kills could help the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Cougars avoid a 30-25, 30-26, 32-30 sweep to No. 4-ranked Biola Tuesday night in the first round of the NAIA Region II Playoffs.
Baker recorded 6 kills in the opening game, then pounded away for 9 more in the second, including the record-breaking 607th of the season, a 2-handed put-down of an errant Biola pass at the net. The previous single-season record belonged to Lenee Hill, who tallied 606 kills in 1991. Baker finished the match with 8 more kills in a thrilling third game to register a final season total of 615 kills.
“Jill had a phenomenal match, and I’m happy she got that record,” said Cougar head coach Chris Keife. “She’s done a great job for our team this whole season, and to see that in a sophomore is just exceptional.”
Play was halted for approximately 30 minutes with the score tied at 29-29 in the third game while medical personnel attended to Laura Stiles, who went to the floor at some point during the play and remained on the ground after the play had ended. Stiles was wheeled off the floor by medical personnel, and no update to her condition is currently available.
Despite being ranked in the top 5 nationally, Azusa Pacific will be the odd team out from NAIA Region II. By rule, the NAIA Volleyball Championship can only extend invitations to 4 teams from a single region, thus leaving the Cougars home watching a national tournament in which 16 of the 20 participants are ranked beneath it.
“It’s always disappointing to know that your season’s done, but at the same time, we’re ranked fifth in the nation,” said Keife. “The rules state right now that we’re not able to go. I think we deserve to go to nationals, and Point Loma Nazarene and Vanguard also deserve to be there. It just happens that one of the teams tonight wasn’t able to go.”
Senior outside hitter Brianne Huff added 9 kills for the Cougars, while senior libero Alison Pattison notched a team-high 18 digs.
Azusa Pacific never led the opening game but tied the score 3 times at 1-1, 10-10 and 16-16 before Biola scored 14 of the last 23 points of the game to post a 30-25 win.
In the second game, Azusa Pacific led by as many as 5 points, taking a 19-14 lead on an Allison Kincheloe service ace. A Baker kill gave the Cougars a 24-20 lead, but Biola rallied for 6 straight points and went on to post the 30-26 win and take a 2-game advantage in the match.
“We had a nice lead in that second game, but we just ended up making too many errors towards the end that allowed it to slip by us,” said Keife. “We also had a comfortable lead for most of the third game, but the same thing happened as it did in the game before. We just didn’t execute as well as we should have, and to Biola’s credit, they did execute.”
A rare Meghan Warkentin attack error late in the third game gave Azusa Pacific another 24-20 advantage, but Warkentin quickly rebounded for a pair of kills in a 4-point run that tied the game at 24-24. A Briana Sardo kill gave the Cougars a 28-26 lead, but Biola answered with a kill and a block to even the match again at 28-28. Baker and the Eagles’ Kristen Peterson traded kills to tie the game at 29-29 when play was stopped to attend to Stiles.
After the stoppage, Biola recorded 3 of the final 4 points to close out the match and clinch the national tournament berth with a 32-30 win. Warkentin led the Eagles with a team-high 21 kills, while Peterson and Jessica Buffum added 9 kills apiece.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to a final overall record of 21-10, the first time in program history that the Cougars have recorded 4 straight 20-win campaigns. Biola improves to 28-6 and advances to this weekend’s NAIA Region II Semifinals hosted by the NAIA’s top-ranked Fresno Pacific.