FRESNO, Calif. -- Not many visiting teams to Fresno Pacific’s Special Events Center are able to put the NAIA’s top-ranked Sunbirds on their heels, but that’s exactly what No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific did in a 4-set defeat Tuesday night.
The Cougars were a point away from stealing the opening set, and although Fresno Pacific responded for the 28-26 win, Azusa Pacific picked itself right back up to win the second by a 25-21 margin. The teams continued with a back-and-forth battle midway through the third set before the Cougars finally ran out of gas.
After taking its final lead of the match at 13-12 in the third set, Azusa Pacific conceded 13 of the next 19 points to the 3-time defending NAIA champions, who have now won 120 straight matches at home after leading the entire fourth set and closing out the match with a 25-18 win.
With the outcome of the match and its long winning streak very much in doubt, Fresno Pacific turned to senior middle blocker KeKe Wang, who answered the call with 5 kills in the next 6 Sunbirds points following the Cougars’ 13-12 third-set lead. Azusa Pacific never led again, and Wang notched 12 of her match-high 24 kills for the Sunbirds from the midway point of the third set through the end of the match.
The hot Cougar start was fueled by junior right side hitter Krista Brenner, who had a team-high 8 of her 10 kills through the first 2 sets. Azusa Pacific was an opening-set point away from having the chance at a 2-set lead over the Sunbirds when junior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra recorded consecutive kills that gave the Cougars a 25-24 lead in the first set. A Fresno Pacific kill and ace turned it around to set point for the Sunbirds, but Brenner answered with a kill that evened the set at 26-26. Fresno Pacific scored the next 2 points on Martina Gregusova kills to escape with an opening-set win.
The only other Azusa Pacific hitter to reach double figures in kills was junior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe, who finished with a team-high 15 kills with just 2 errors for a .419 attack percentage.
Setters Raechel Jones and Sophie Burns each had 2 service aces, and the duo combined for 39 assists. Junior libero Robin Portela tallied a team-high 15 digs, her fifth 15-dig effort in the past 7 matches, and Beetstra and Radcliffe led the Cougars’ blocking with 4 blocks each.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 16-3 overall and 4-3 in GSAC play, while Fresno Pacific improves to 15-0 overall, 7-0 GSAC. The Cougars are back home for 5 of the next 7 matches on the schedule, starting with a 7 p.m. matchup with The Master’s on Saturday, Oct.2.