AZUSA, Calif. -- It’s been 17 seasons since Azusa Pacific beat Fresno Pacific, and after tonight it’ll be another season before the streak can end.
The NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific had Fresno Pacific in precarious positions in sets 2 and 3 but let the No. 3-ranked Sunbirds off the hook both times as FPU rallied to claim its 40th straight victory over the Cougars, 25-16, 25-23, 27-25, in a Golden State Athletic Conference match Tuesday evening in the Felix Event Center.
“This is a frustrating loss because we made poor decisions and didn’t execute,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Chris Keife. “We were in good position to win both sets, and we went to the wrong people on offense, right where Fresno was defending.”
After Fresno Pacific used a 12-3 run to close out what had otherwise been a tight first set of play, the Cougars stiffened in their defensive effort and took control of the match with some sterling second-set play. Led by freshman Jackie Landers’ thunderous hits, Azusa Pacific reeled off a 9-2 run to assume a 21-17 lead and place a set victory within sight. However, they fell apart in stretch run, committing 4 attack errors and a serve receive mistake to let Fresno Pacific regain momentum and a little luck.
With the score tied at 23, Cougar Krista Brenner unloaded a bomb of an attack that offered no time for Sunbird Karah Mitchell to react. Yet, the ball hit off the top of her unsuspecting head and ricocheted straight up, allowing the Sunbirds to reset, save the play, and garner the go-ahead point on a Martina Gregusova kill. FPU took advantage of another Cougar attack error to win the set and move out to a 2-0 match lead.
Azusa Pacific was even better in its play in the third set, leading nearly the entire set and building a nifty 20-16 lead to again move to within reach of a set win. This time, however, Fresno Pacific fired back with its own artillery. Back-to-back Lisa Shilling kills ignited a 5-0 Sunbird run that gave Fresno Pacific a 21-20 lead, its first since holding a 5-4 advantage early in the set.
The 2 teams traded points until it appeared Fresno Pacific won the match on a Gregusova service ace. However, the original call by the linesman was overruled by referee Burt Fuller, giving Azusa Pacific second life with a 24-all tie. Undaunted by the change of calls, the Sunbirds pressed on, parlaying a Keke Wang kill and a block by Shilling and Michelle Johnson, 1 of 9 Sunbird blocks on the night, into the needed consecutive points that ended the match.
“Ironically, in both sets where we fell apart we were in the same rotation,” said Keife. “We were stuck and couldn’t get out of it.”
Whittany Radcliffe lead the Cougars with 13 kills. Landers had 8 on 13 attempts for a .615 percentage.
Gregusova led all players with 20 kills. Wang followed with 18. Shilling finished with 7 kills and had a hand in 4 blocks.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 24-6 overall, 11-6 in the GSAC. Fresno Pacific improves to 26-1 overall, 17-0 in the GSAC.