IRVINE, Calif. – The NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific put the finishing touches on a perfect pre-conference schedule, picking up 3-set sweeps over Jamestown (N.D.) (25-23, 25-19, 25-18) and Cal State Dominguez Hills (25-19, 26-24, 25-19) at the Asics/Crowne Plaza Labor Day Tournament at Concordia for its 11th and 12th consecutive victories to start the 2010 season.
“After losing one of the best players in the school’s history, this team really had to find its identity,” said Cougar head coach Chris Keife, who brought back every starter from the 2009 squad except NAIA Player of the Year Jill Baker.
“I think they have definitely responded, with several players stepping up for us, and this was a great way to get us on track to enter conference play.”
The 12-win streak ties the program record for the longest season-opening win streak, and the only other team to do so in program history, the 1980 squad, went on to win the NAIA title with a 43-8 campaign.
Saturday’s victories again featured a balanced, efficient attack along with solid defending, with the Cougars carving out a steady .327 attack percentage while out-digging its opponents on the day by a combined margin of 101-84.
Junior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe was the match kills leader in both victories, sharing the team lead with junior middle blocker Amy Alkazin in the Jamestown win with 11 kills and notching another 13 kills against Cal State Dominguez Hills. Radcliffe led Azusa Pacific in kills in each of its 4 victories on the weekend, and she has been the Cougars’ kill leader in 11 of 12 matches this season.
After her 15-kill, 4-error effort in the weekend’s opening match, a 5-set win over the NAIA’s No. 25-ranked Carroll (Mont.), Radcliffe committed just 1 more attack error over the final 3 matches of the tournament.
In Azusa Pacific’s first match Saturday, a 3-set win over Jamestown, the Cougars trailed only once – after giving up the opening point of the match. Behind a pair of Radcliffe kills, Azusa Pacific reeled off 5 straight and never looked back, using the combined 22 combined kills from Radcliffe and Alkazin to pace the offense, 43 digs from its defense, and 6 service aces to notch the 3-set sweep. Juniors Marguerite Hanna and Robin Portela had 2 aces apiece, and Portela was the digs leader with 9, joined by 4 others who registered at least 5 digs.
Against Cal State Dominguez Hills, senior defensive specialist Julia Wehsener posted a season-high 16 digs, just 2 off her career-high, and Portela and sophomore setter Breezy Funk added 12 digs each. Junior right side hitter Krista Brenner and junior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra tallied 3 blocks apiece, and 5 different Cougars registered at least 6 kills. Brenner and freshman outside hitter Jackie Landers had 8 kills each to add to Radcliffe’s match-high 13 kills, and junior setter Raechel Jones totaled 29 assists in the match to reach 50 total assists on the day.
“Today was one of our better days offensively this year, and I was especially pleased with our setting,” Keife said. “The setters were efficient, and they did a great job getting our offense into a good rhythm. Our defense also did a good job, and that great all-around effort today was just a great way for us to wrap up the pre-season.”
Azusa Pacific opens the 20-match Golden State Athletic Conference schedule with a visit to the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked California Baptist on Thursday, Sept. 9. The Cougars haven’t won in Riverside since 2003, a streak of 6 straight road losses to the Lancers.