AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior outside hitter Jill Baker served as the catalyst for Azusa Pacific’s season-opening victories over Daemen (N.Y.) and Indiana Wesleyan Friday, registering 46 kills in the first day of action at the Cougar Classic.
“You can’t ask for anything better than what Jill gave us, and I thought our setters did a nice job finding the hot hitters today,” said Cougar head coach Chris Keife. “I thought everyone did a nice job today, and it’s fun to see everyone contribute while getting a couple wins under your belt.”
Opening at home for the first time since 1987, the Cougars used a 10-2 run to close out the opening set of a 25-15, 25-13, 25-12 sweep of Daemen. Freshman middle blocker Amy Alkazin served consecutive aces during the run, and she was instrumental again in a 13-3 mid-second set run, tallying 5 of her 11 kills in the frame. Alkazin finished with a solid all-around line of 11 kills, 6 digs, 2 aces and an assist block.
“We had a good mix of players contributing,” said Keife. “Our middles got really involved, which helped open up a lot of things. We were pretty efficient, we served and passed well, and it was a good way to open up the season. We had four freshmen on the court at times today, and I think it’s fun to see us mesh together and continue to grow as a young team. I saw some bright glimpses of how good we can be, although we also saw some mental mistakes that we need to work on.”
Baker and sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Daley combined for 9 errorless kills in a near-perfect third set in which Azusa Pacific posted 14 kills on 31 attempts. Behind the serve of senior setter Allison Kincheloe, the Cougars opened the final set with a 9-0 run and led by at least 9 points the rest of the way.
Baker finished with a match-high 14 kills to set the stage for an impressive afternoon performance in Azusa Pacific’s 5-set win over Indiana Wesleyan.
After hitting into the Wildcat block on the opening play of the match, Baker reeled off 16 consecutive kills before committing her second error late in the third set, cutting the Cougar lead to 21-20. With the match tied at 1 set apiece, Baker rebounded with back-to-back kills to finish off a 25-20 win, the first of another 16 straight kills without an error to finish the match. She finished with a tournament-high 32 kills, registering a blistering .526 hitting percentage with just a pair of errors on 57 attempts and adding 16 digs and 2 blocks.
“We found a good rhythm, and we were able to capitalize on some of the things we do well,” said Baker, who was able to produce nearly 6 kills per game on the day, despite the collegiate rules change that reduces the number of points required to win a set from 30 to 25.
“With the set scores changing this season, it’s now basically a sprint to the finish. Even though it doesn’t sound like a lot, that 5 point reduction is pretty big. There were times last year where we were behind at the 20-point mark, but this year we can’t afford to give away any points.”
Azusa Pacific had a chance to close out a 4-set victory in the final contest of the afternoon, serving match point to Indiana Wesleyan at 24-23, but the Wildcats rallied for 3 points to force a decisive fifth set. The Cougars used a 6-1 run to take a 14-6 lead, but Indiana Wesleyan fought off 4 match points before Alkazin delivered the 5-set win with her sixth kill of the contest, giving Azusa Pacific a 17-25, 25-10, 25-20, 24-26, 15-10 decision.
“We gave up too many runs at times,” said Keife. “We did a good job for the most part of limiting our errors until the end of that fourth game. When you take one-sixth of the game out, everything is going to matter a lot more, especially errors and runs. We’ll just have to adjust to the new scoring and learn how important it is to lower the errors.”
Kincheloe and freshman setter Raechel Jones collected a match-high 28 assists each, driving the offense to 72 total kills and a .298 hitting percentage. Daley put together a strong finish, as well, putting away 9 kills without an error over the final 2 sets and finishing with 17 kills. Freshman Robin Portela notched a match-high 26 digs, and freshman middle blocker Ariel Beetstra matched her 4-block effort from the opening match.
The Cougars take on Eastern Oregon and Great Falls (Mont.) Saturday to wrap up the 2-day Cougar Classic.
SCORES FROM OTHER COUGAR CLASSIC MATCHES
Biola d. Eastern Oregon, 3-0 (25-15, 25-11, 25-18)
The Master’s d. Great Falls, 3-0 (26-24, 25-20, 25-23)
California Baptist d. Indiana Wesleyan, 3-0 (25-8, 25-20, 26-24)
Eastern Oregon d. The Master’s, 3-2 (16-25, 19-25, 26-24, 25-19, 18-16)
Biola d. Great Falls, 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-14)
California Baptist v. Daemen, 3-0 (25-10, 25-9, 25-12)