AZUSA, Calif. -- With a trio of 3-set sweeps Friday, Azusa Pacific took the first step towards answering the question of just how good the Cougars might be in 2010 without 2009 NAIA Player of the Year Jill Baker.
Those answers came in a multiple-choice format, with a balanced effort leading Azusa Pacific to an impressive start to the 2010 campaign with double-digit wins in 6 of 9 sets played Friday. All 7 Cougar hitters with double-digit attack attempts converted at a .333 clip or better, and Azusa Pacific’s team hitting percentage registered a blistering .396 on the day.
After posting a 25-17, 25-15, 25-12 win over Holy Names, the Cougars never trailed in an equally-dominant 25-15, 25-21, 25-11 win over Viterbo (Wis.). Azusa Pacific wrapped up the day with a 25-11, 25-15, 25-23 victory over Black Hills State (S.D.).
Junior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe tallied match-highs of 15 kills in each of the Cougars’ final 2 wins of the day, and junior right side hitter Krista Brenner was the team’s hitting percentage leader at 44 percent (18 kills/3 errors/34 attempts).
“I was pleasantly surprised, because we played at a higher level than I thought we would at the start of the season,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “We showed a lot of balance offensively, and I thought our defense and blocking were especially good. You could pick several players from each game that played very well, and you love to see that as a coach.”
Junior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra had a team-high 11 blocks, and she had a hand in over half of Azusa Pacific’s 20 team blocks.
“We had really been stressing the blocking technique a lot in practice this week, with a focus on simplifying the block to allow our defense to read the hitters,” Beetstra said. “We saw the results of that with our consistency today.”
The Cougars’ best stretch of play came in the middle match of the day, when Radcliffe opened the third set with a kill and back-to-back blocks that provided the first 3 points to spark a 12-1 set-opening run. In that set, Azusa Pacific held Viterbo to a negative hitting percentage of -.088, with Radcliffe registering all 4 Cougar blocks to go with 5 of her match-high 15 kills in the final set.
Junior outside hitter Marguerite Hanna who tallied a team-high 11 kills in Friday’s opening win over Holy Names, tallied 28 kills on the day along with a team-high 4 aces. Junior libero Robin Portela paced the defense with a team-high 33 digs, including 19 in the Holy Names victory.
“Robin played exceptionally well in leading our serve receive and our defense,” Keife said. “A lot of good things happened for us when she touched the ball.”
Freshman Jackie Landers started at the outside hitter position vacated by Baker, the Cougars’ single-season and career kills record holder, and she recorded 9 kills in her collegiate debut. Through her first 2 matches, Landers had committed only a single attack error.
The next test for Azusa Pacific is next week’s visit to Salt Lake City, Utah, for Westminster College’s Tournament of Champions, where the Cougars’ first pool-play matchup comes against the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked College of Idaho.