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Nerves of Steel Prevail

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Published
December 1, 2010
By
Gary PIne
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Azusa Pacific has more than proved its metal. These Cougars have nerves of steel.

Facing dire circumstances, the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific put together a 7-1 run to end the fourth set and then continually produced key plays in clutch situations in the final set to post its second straight 5-set victory at the NAIA Championship Tournament, rallying to beat No. 24 Oklahoma City University, 22-25, 25-20, 25-27, 25-20, and 15-13, during the second day of play at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

The victory keeps Azusa Pacific undefeated in pool play and assures the Cougars of advancing into Friday’s single-elimination round no matter the result of tomorrow’s final pool-play match against Columbia College.

“We’re still working out the kinks, but we’re winning and we’re moving on,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Chris Keife. “It’s one of those matches where you like the outcome, but not that path you took to get there.”

Down 2-sets-to-1 and trailing 19-18 in the fourth set, Azusa Pacific was offered a reprieve by an Oklahoma City squad that slipped under pressure, committing 5 errors in 6 service plays, 4 by attack and 1 by serve to hand the Cougars 5 free points and a 23-20 lead. All-Americans Whittany Radcliffe and Amy Alkazin took over from there with a kill and an ace, respectively, to finish off the set, tie the match at 2 sets apiece, and give the Cougars new life.

From there Azusa Pacific felt right at home. No team in the NAIA has been more successful in 5-set matches the past 2 seasons than the Cougars, who came into today having won 15 of their past 16 five-set matches.

“I told the girls not to take the fifth set for granted,” said Keife. “I wanted them to be confident because of all the success they’ve had in fifth sets, but they still had to work hard and work for the desired results.”

The Stars who were fighting for their postseason life after losing yesterday’s tournament-opening match, used a 5-2 run midway through the fifth set to take a short-lived 10-9 lead. However, 3 Radcliffe kills on the next 4 services put Azusa Pacific back up 12-11, and the Cougars never trailed again. A Hanna Marguerite kill, her seventh of the match, clinched the comeback and the victory, the Cougars’ 16th in their past 17 five-set matches.

“We’re scrapping it out, getting more kills and putting more balls on the floor than the opponent,” said Keife. “Despite what the score said, we were still confident in sets 3, 4, and 5. These girls can battle back from anything.”

Radcliffe led Azusa Pacific with a match-high 24 kills, including 6 in the fifth set. Alkzain added 16, recording 5 in the second set when the Cougars rolled out to a 15-8 lead and cruised on it for its first set victory in the match.

The victory, which is the Cougars’ fifth straight, pushes Azusa Pacific’s record to 29-6. The Cougars close out pool play Thursday (Dec. 2) with a 3:15 p.m. (CST) match against Columbia, which has also won its 2 pool matches to date.

Oklahoma City, which was led by Xiaoting Ma’s 24 kills, falls to 23-13 overall, and with no chance to advance out of pool play, it will conclude its season Thursday against Rocky Mountain College.