AZUSA, Calif. -- Sometimes having a short memory can be a positive thing, and a 4-set win over Westmont for Azusa Pacific showed the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked Cougars certainly were not slowed by back-to-back defeats to Concordia and California Baptist. Today’s 25-21, 16-25, 25-14, 25-20 victory evened Azusa Pacific’s Golden State Athletic Conference record to 3-3, with all 3 defeats to the NAIA’s top 3 ranked programs.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth since the beginning of the year, but I think we’re all still waiting to really see where we can find our game and find out what we’re capable of,” senior setter Allison Kincheloe said. “We’re slowly getting there, and I felt like our performance today was something we can build on for the rest of the year.”
The Cougars were sharp in every facet of the game Saturday, and junior outside Jill Baker led the way with match-highs of 16 kills and 15 digs. Kincheloe added 10 digs and served a match-high 4 aces, and freshmen middle blockers Ariel Beetstra and Amy Alkazin accounted for 8 total blocks (3 solo, 5 assist).
“I was definitely pleased with the way we came back after those 2 losses to put together a strong performance here today,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “We’re starting to understand what it means to serve tough, and if we want to compete successfully at a high level nationally, we’ll need to continue to improve on the toughness in our serve and shore up a few more things in our blocking.”
Azusa Pacific’s opening set was nearly flawless, with 18 of the Cougars’ points in a 25-21 win coming off kills, and the Cougar offense committed just 2 errors in 38 swings for a blistering .421 attack percentage. Baker and Kincheloe each had 5 digs in the first set alone, and Azusa Pacific never trailed in the opening-set win.
Westmont bounced back to lead from wire-to-wire in the second set, using a 5-point run midway through the set to turn its 14-12 lead into a commanding 7-point margin en route to a 25-16 win that evened the match at 1 set apiece.
Kincheloe helped swing the momentum back to the Cougars by taking serve to start the set, and a pair of aces and 2 Alkazin solo blocks gave Azusa Pacific exactly the quick start it needed, a 5-0 run that forced Westmont to take a quick timeout.
“I finally got into a good rhythm today with my serving,” Kincheloe said. “It’s taken awhile for me to get into a groove again, and today it definitely felt a lot better.”
Another Kincheloe ace midway through the set pushed the lead to 14-9, and Alkazin served back-to-back aces to cap a 4-point swing that gave the Cougars a 21-12 advantage. Senior right side hitter Megan Burch capped a 4-1 run to close out the 25-14 victory with the fourth of her 5 kills.
“As a group, we felt really confident out there today,” Kincheloe said. “We found a level ground, a place where we were able to play consistently, and that helped us all as individuals. When I was serving, I was able to just focus on the ball, and I wasn’t distracted by anyone else or any other parts of the game.”
The fourth set featured a pair of lead changes and 8 ties, the last at 12-12, before the last of Alkazin’s 8 kills in the match gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good at 13-12. Westmont kept within striking distance and trailed by 3 points or less before closing the margin back to 1 at 21-20, but the Cougars answered with 4 straight points to close out the match. A Baker kill sparked the run, freshman setter Raechel Jones followed with an ace, Baker and Beetstra stuffed a Westmont attack, and then Baker sealed the match with her fifth kill of the set.
Alison Sharp collected 10 of her team-high 14 kills in the first 2 sets, and she added 9 digs for the Warriors, who were led defensively by Erin Dohm’s 11 digs. Samantha Miller tallied 7 kills and 5 blocks, but no other Westmont players reached double figures in kills.
Azusa Pacific improves to 13-5 overall on the season, while Westmont drops to 1-5 GSAC, 7-10 overall. All 5 of Westmont’s conference defeats are to teams ranked in the top 16 of the NAIA Coaches Poll. The Cougars visit San Diego Christian on Tuesday, Sept. 30, before returning to the Felix Event Center to host No. 13-ranked Point Loma Nazarene on Saturday, Oct. 4.