AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific bounced back from its 3-set defeat at No. No. 3 Biola earlier in the week with a near-perfect 25-11, 25-11, 25-16 sweep over Vanguard Saturday night at the Felix Event Center.
The entire match took just 57 minutes, and about the only thing that didn’t go right for the Cougars came on Vanguard’s opening serve, which dropped between 2 players for an ace on the first point of the match. However, junior middle blocker Amy Alkazin’s kill sparked a 7-0 run with her first kill, and Azusa Pacific raced out to a 21-5 lead on 5 of junior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe’s match-high 11 kills.
The Cougars served 7 aces with only 3 errors in the service game, and the serve reception was just as good, surrendering only 2 aces on Lion serves. As a result, Azusa Pacific’s defense found itself positioned perfectly for a 50-37 advantage in digs for the match. Leading the way defensively were 3 players with double-digit digs, with junior libero Robin Portela’s match-high 15 digs joined by an 11-dig effort from senior Julie Wehsener and 10 digs from junior setter Raechel Jones.
“Serving was the best skill we performed today, because serving sets everything else up,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “We served so well that our block was set and ready to go, and that allowed our defense to line up around the block and get a lot of digs. I thought we did a great job defending and making Vanguard earn its points.”
Vanguard again scored first in the second set, but again it was the only lead for the Lions. Alkazin again registered the opening kill of a 5-0 run that got the Cougar offense rolling en route to a 20-6 lead. Radcliffe had 4 more kills in the set, and junior outside hitter Brittany Best served up a pair of aces in the set.
In the third set, Azusa Pacific led the entire way, posting a 6-1 run at the outset, and juniors Krista Brenner and Ariel Beetstra helped extend the lead with 3 consecutive blocks in a 5-0 run that pushed the lead to 12-4. Alkazin recorded 3 kills in 6 attempts in the final set, capping an efficient offensive performance in which the Cougars registered 40 kills against only 10 attack errors in 96 attempts for a blistering .312 attack percentage.
Radcliffe was the only player on either side to reach double figures in kills, and Alkazin turned in an errorless 7-kill performance with a pair of blocks. Beetstra and Brenner, who teamed up for 3 straight third-set blocks, each tallied 6 kills, as well, and freshman outside hitter Jackie Landers had an error-free match with 5 kills in 10 attempts.
Vanguard, which drops to 5-11 in GSAC play but still sits above .500 with a 13-12 overall record, was led by Jamie Heenan’s 9 kills. She was the only Lion with more than 4 kills, and libero Ariel Strickler was the only Vanguard player with double figures in digs with 11.
“We went to 5 sets with them the last time we played, and our team knows the level of Vanguard,” Keife said. “Their record really doesn’t reflect their talent and the level their team actually plays. We knew that about them coming into tonight’s match, so our team knew we had to start strong and make a statement after what happened to us Tuesday at Biola.”
Azusa Pacific protected its 1-game lead over Concordia for fourth place in the GSAC, improving to 11-5 in conference play and 24-5 overall.
“Our team has a lot of experience now in this league, and they know how big each match is,” Keife said. “It’s important to take care of every day one match at a time and just focus in on that. Every match is important as you come to the end, because everyone’s fighting for positioning in the GSAC and also for seedings at the national tournament.”
The Cougars begin the final 4-match stretch of the regular season when they host the NAIA’s top-ranked Fresno Pacific on Tuesday, Nov. 2, in a 7 p.m. clash at the Felix Event Center.