AZUSA, Calif. -- Recent history suggested that the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific had No. 16 Concordia right where it wanted – in a fifth set.
The Cougars, who had won 10 consecutive 5-set matches over the past 2 seasons, rallied from 2 sets down and jumped out to a commanding 9-4 lead in the fifth set that fit right into Azusa Pacific's 5-set blueprint for success. However, Concordia chipped its way back into the set and toppled the Cougars' 10-match streak of 5-set wins, taking Friday's crucial Golden State Athletic Conference match by a final score of 25-21, 25-19, 20-25, 17-25, 17-15.
Eighteen of the 32 points in the final set involved either Azusa Pacific’s Whittany Radcliffe or Concordia’s Amber Ridens, who each registered career-highs in kills with Ridens setting the Eagles’ program record with 36 kills. Radcliffe finished with 26 kills, and both she and Ridens collected 6 kills each in the final set.
“The match was very emotional and high-energy all the way through,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “Both teams were playing hard, both teams at times were executing really high, and both teams were erring high at times. In a match of ups and downs, the downs got us a little too much at the end.”
Radcliffe opened the fifth set with 3 kills in Azusa Pacific’s 4 points, and her fourth kill of the set broke a 4-4 tie and sparked a 5-0 run that gave the Cougars a commanding 9-4 lead. Freshman middle blocker Christy Cain notched a pair of solo blocks around a Sophie Burns ace during the run. However, Concordia got back into the set by scoring at least 2 points to 4 of the next 5 Azusa Pacific side outs to tie the set at 13-13.
The next point featured one of the match’s longest rallies, and it included a block of a Ridens attack by juniors Amy Alkazin and Ariel Beetstra that appeared to create an illegal double contact by a Concordia player, which would have resulted in a Cougar point. No call was made, however, and Concordia kept setting Ridens along the right side. Freshman Nicole Sepulveda and junior libero Robin Portela had back-to-back momentum-building digs on consecutive Ridens attacks -- Sepulveda's a one-armed left-hander on the run and Portela bunkering down to handle a ferocious Ridens strike -- but Azusa Pacific couldn't put away the point before a third straight set to Ridens resulted in a kill that gave Concordia its first of 3 match points at 14-13.
View the entire point here, or on the Azusa Pacific Athletics YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiVSe5xgVBo
“We executed poorly down the stretch,” Keife said. “We didn’t watch the ball out of bounds, we served into the net, and we just started making errors that we hadn’t been making. I felt like we were scrambling way too often instead of making one good choice.”
Radcliffe came back with a kill to tie the match, and Ridens answered to push the lead to 15-14. A Ridens error tied it at 15-15, but the Cougars were whistled for a ball handling error before Ridens closed out the match with her final kill of the night to clinch the 17-15 win.
The defeat, which dropped Azusa Pacific into a fifth-place tie with Concordia in the GSAC standings, also overshadowed another season-best performance from Cain, Azusa Pacific’s 6-foot-4 true freshman middle blocker. Cain notched a season-high 9 kills in 14 attempts for a .571 attack percentage, and she also registered the best blocking performance of her young career with 5 blocks, including the pair of solo blocks in the fifth set.
Portela finished with a match-high 23 digs, and Burns, a sophomore setter, tied a career-high with 4 of Azusa Pacific’s 8 service aces and notched a career-high 16 digs. Radcliffe’s career-high 26-kill performance was her fourth 20-kill match of the year and her third in GSAC play. Junior Krista Brenner added 12 kills, while Alkazin finished with 10 kills and 14 digs. The Cougars are now 18-4 overall and 6-4 in GSAC play, with the second half of the conference schedule set to begin with Tuesday’s visit to Westmont.
Azusa Pacific never led in either of the first 2 sets, and the Cougars took their first lead of the entire match when junior setter Raechel Jones snapped a 6-6 tie with an ace. The Cougars added to their lead with 3 consecutive blocks, all of which included Beetstra in the middle. Concordia fought back to take a 19-18 lead on 1 of Ridens’ 11 third-set kills, but Radcliffe evened the match with a kill of her own. A Sepulveda ace made it 20-19, which Concordia answered with a Brooke Marino kill to knot the set at 20-20. Another Radcliffe kill sparked a 5-0 run to end the set, with Cain involved in a pair of blocks against Ridens.
Cain and Alkazin finished off a 9-0 run in the fourth set that turned a 5-3 lead into a double-digit margin and virtually assured a fifth set would take place. Burns served a pair of aces early in the 9-point run, Cain registered back-to-back kills that pushed the Cougar lead to 11-3, and Alkazin had consecutive kills that pushed the lead to 14-3. Azusa Pacific led by at least 7 points the rest of the way in a 25-17 win that sent the match to 5 sets.
“We switched the lineup because we had to do something different after the first 2 sets,” Keife said. “I felt like we had the momentum going into the fifth set to finish it up.”
The only Concordia hitter to reach double figures in kills besides Ridens was Amy Van Buren, who totaled 10 kills and a match-high 6 blocks. Libero Kara Vincitorio led the Eagle defense with a team-high 22 digs.
After traveling to Westmont on Tuesday, Oct. 12, Azusa Pacific will return home for 3 straight matches at the Felix Event Center, where it has compiled an 18-4 record over the past 2 seasons that includes victories in 12 of the past 14 home matches. Concordia, now 14-4 overall and 6-4 in conference play, opens the second half of the GSAC slate when it hosts Vanguard Oct. 12.