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Published
December 5, 2008
By
Joe Reinsch
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Azusa Pacific’s impressive run at the 2008 NAIA Volleyball National Championship screeched to a halt early Friday morning, as the Cougars suffered a 4-set defeat to Lubbock Christian (Texas), 26-24, 25-20, 21-25, 25-18, in the playoff round of the championship bracket.

Lubbock Christian advances to the quarterfinals to take on California Baptist, 1 of 7 Golden State Athletic Conference programs that advanced to the 12-team championship bracket. California Baptist is joined in the quarterfinals by Fresno Pacific, Biola, Concordia and Point Loma Nazarene, which knocked Vanguard out of the playoff round later Friday morning.

Junior outside hitter Jill Baker led an efficient Azusa Pacific offense, finishing with a match-high 15 kills while adding 13 digs, but the Lubbock Christian defense wore out the Cougars by digging 73 of 161 hitting attempts. The result was a pair of hard-fought wins in the opening 2 sets before Azusa Pacific finally hit its stride in the third set with a 25-21 win.

“The team we played was very scrappy defensively,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “They did a good job putting every ball back over to us and making us earn all of our points. We never really got into a rhythm, although we changed some things up for the third set and did a better job offensively.”

Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Daley and senior right side hitter Megan Burch added 10 kills each for Azusa Pacific, which was unable to match Lubbock Christian’s 60-kill total despite the Cougars taking 20 more swings than the Lady Chaps.

In the opening set, Azusa Pacific was edged by Lubbock Christian’s 19-kill, 3-error effort that resulted in a 26-24 victory for the Lady Chaps. The Cougars totaled 18 kills while converting 43 attacks in the opening set for a .302 hitting percentage, its best of any set in the match. The second set was more of the same, as Lubbock Christian collected 2 more kills than Azusa Pacific in an identical number of attack attempts (37) while taking a 25-20 win that put the Cougars into a 2-set hole.

After claiming the third set by a 25-21 margin, Azusa Pacific surrendered the momentum to Lubbock Christian in the middle of the fourth set, and the Lady Chaps cruised to the 25-18 win to seal the match and prevent a Cougar rematch with California Baptist. The conference rivals split the season series, each winning once on their home floor, and would have squared off on a neutral floor for just the second time in the past 13 seasons. Instead, Lubbock Christian moves on to the quarterfinals, where it will be 1 of 3 teams carrying the torch to prevent the NAIA’s volleyball super-conference from setting up the national tournament’s second straight all-GSAC final four.

“Overall, we had a great season, working our way back up the national rankings throughout the year,” Keife said. “It was exciting for the seniors to get back here to the national tournament, and it was great for our freshman and other young players to get all this experience back here. Getting national tournament exposure is great for the young players, to have these matches under their belt heading into next season.”

Freshman libero Robin Portela was the Cougars’ digs leader with 18, and freshman middle blocker Ariel Beetstra added 8 kills in just 16 attempts. Senior setter Allison Kincheloe, the Azusa Pacific career assists and aces record holder, tallied 23 assists and 8 digs in her final match as a Cougar. Fellow senior Kelsey Knudsen had only 7 sets come her way but added a kill to finish her third NAIA Tournament with 4-match totals of 9 kills and 7 blocks.

“All 3 seniors have done great things for this program,” Keife said. “They’ve provided great leadership on and off the court, set the tone for the way we practice and prepare, and they’ve just been a stable part of our program as we’ve tried to raise our level. They’ve gone to 3 national tournaments in 4 years and have been a huge part in being able to put APU back on the national volleyball map again.”

The Cougars finish the year with a 25-11 overall record, matching the program’s second-highest win total in the past 17 years. It was also the fifth straight 20-win campaign for Azusa Pacific, the longest such streak in program history.