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Cougars’ Perfect Start Continues

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August 27, 2010
Joe Reinsch
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Azusa Pacific picked up its first win over an NAIA-ranked opponent with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-19) victory over the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked College of Idaho, and the NAIA's No. 9-ranked Cougars picked up their fifth consecutive 3-set sweep to start the 2010 season with a 3-0 win (25-13, 25-10, 25-21) over unranked Daemen (N.Y.) Friday at the Westminster (Utah) College Tournament of Champions.

“This level of competition is a good early test for us,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “Westminster and College of Idaho are both very good teams, so it’s a good test to gauge where we are this early in the season.”

The Cougars, who opened the season with 3-set victories over 3 unranked opponents at last week’s Cougar Classic, opened tournament pool play against College of Idaho. Juniors Amy Alkazin and Whittany Radcliffe combined for 21 kills with just 2 errors to lead the attack, while junior libero Robin Portela paced the defense with a match-high 15 digs and 21 service receptions without an error.

“There were a lot of good moments from the College of Idaho match,” Keife said. “Amy and Whittany have been setting the tone for us early on in matches. They are both on the court right from the start, and they are really trying to set the tone for each match with their physical attacks.”

The Cougars rallied from a 19-17 deficit late in the opening set, using a 5-1 run that included kills from Alkazin, junior right side hitter Krista Brenner and freshman outside hitter Jackie Landers to take a 22-20 lead. The teams traded points the rest of the way, with Brenner providing the final kill for the 25-23 set win.

Early in the second set, sophomore setter Breezy Funk served a 7-point Azusa Pacific run that gave Azusa Pacific an early 10-2 advantage. The run was highlighted by a pair of blocks from Brenner and junior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra, and the Cougars led by at least 3 points the rest of the set en route to a 25-19 win.

“Breezy served really tough in that run, and our block had a much easier job since her serve was so effective,” Keife said. “Our defense also dug a lot of balls that made it easier for offense to turn into kills.”

With Azusa Pacific trailing 15-11 in the third set, Alkazin and Radcliffe registered 3 kills each during a 12-1 run that began with 5 straight Cougar kills and a run of 8 unanswered points. The 8-point burst switched the lead back into Azusa Pacific hands at 19-15, and the total run pushed the Cougars to within 2 points away from clinching the match at 23-16. Another Radcliffe kill set up match point, and a College of Idaho kill was followed by a service error to finish the match with a 25-19 third-set verdict.

Beetstra tallied a match-high 7 blocks, with Brenner and Radcliffe each contributing 3 block assists in Azusa Pacific’s 8-block team total.

In the second match of the day, Azusa Pacific never trailed in the first 2 sets, cruising to double-digit wins before completing the sweep with a 25-21 third-set win. Radcliffe led the way with a match-high 12 kills in just 2 sets, again committing just a single attack error in the match. Alkazin added 8 kills, as did junior outside hitter Marguerite Hanna, and Landers and Brenner contributed 7 kills apiece as the Cougars’ offense converted exactly half (49) of its 98 attack attempts into kills with just 9 errors for a blistering .408 attack percentage.

Portela repeated as the team’s digs leader with 13, and junior setter Raechel Jones added 11 digs and an ace to go with her team-high 20 assists.

After wrapping up pool play with a matchup against tournament host Westminster, the 4 teams will be seeded 1 through 4 in a 4-team championship-format bracket. The first semifinal (#1 vs. #4) takes place at 2 p.m. and will be immediately followed by the second semifinal (#2 vs. #3) prior to the 6 p.m. tournament championship match.