IRVINE, Calif. -- Junior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe got the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific going, and freshman outside hitter Jackie Landers carried the Cougars down the stretch to close out the regular season and clinch a fourth-place Golden State Athletic Conference finish with an impressive 28-26, 25-21,26-24 road sweep at No. 11 Concordia Saturday night.
Radcliffe tallied 7 of her team-high 14 kills in the opening set, including the set-clinching point of a 28-26 win, and Landers’ 11-kill effort included 8 kills over the second and third sets. Junior right side Krista Brenner added 9 kills and 5 blocks, junior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra added a match-high 6 blocks, and junior libero Robin Portela spearheaded the Cougars’ strong defensive effort with a match-high 17 digs.
With the win, Azusa Pacific finishes the regular season with a 27-6 overall record and a 14-6 GSAC mark, and the victory broke the fourth-place tie with Concordia in the conference standings. The Cougars will finish the year ranked in the top 12 of the final NAIA coaches’ poll for the sixth consecutive season, and they will accept an at-large bid into the 36-team NAIA Volleyball National Championship field. Azusa Pacific will likely be among the 12 teams receiving opening-round byes and advance directly to the final site of the NAIA Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, where pool play kicks off the 5-day championship tournament that runs from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.
Azusa Pacific fought off a pair of set points in the opening set, and senior defensive specialist Julia Wehsener turned the momentum with an ace that gave the Cougars a set point at 26-25. After both teams sided out for another Cougar set point at 27-26, Radcliffe put away a Raechel Jones set to close out the 28-26 win and the early match lead.
Concordia’s only lead in the second set, 2-1, was quickly erased with a 4-point burst, and Azusa Pacific never trailed again in a 25-21 second-set win. The lead grew as large as 6 points several times in the set, although Concordia twice got within a point at 20-19 and 21-20. Landers recorded a pair of kills for 2 of the Cougars’ final 3 points in a 5-1 run that closed out the 25-21 set victory.
The third set saw Concordia take the early lead until midway through the set, when Landers put away 3 consecutive kills that gave Azusa Pacific a 16-15 lead. That helped spark a 9-3 run that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the set at 21-18, and a 23-23 tie was closed out by a Beetstra solo block between a pair of Brenner kills for the 26-24 win.
The Cougars posted a .270 attack percentage, committing only 13 attack errors against 43 kills in 111 attempts, while Concordia had 25 attack errors that contributed to a .143 attack percentage. Azusa Pacific posted significant edges over the Eagles in team blocks (10-4) and digs (60-52), as well. Concordia’s Amber Ridens, who set the Eagles’ single-match record with 36 kills when the teams first met this year in a 5-set Concordia win Oct. 8, again proved difficult to stop. Ridens collected 24 kills with 9 digs, but no other Eagles hitter registered double figures in kills.
Concordia drops to 22-8 overall and 13-7 in GSAC, and the Eagles will also represent the conference in NAIA Tournament play.