SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Behind the powerful attack of Serbian Vesna Trivunovic, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Columbia College rolled past No. 8 Azusa Pacific, 25-20, 23-25, 25-22, and 25-20, to close out pool play at the 31st Annual NAIA Women’s Volleyball Championship Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday afternoon.
The victory pushes Columbia’s winning streak to 28 in a row, and does little else since both squads were already assured advancements out of pool play and into Friday’s single-elimination competition.
Trivunovic belted a match-high 22 kills, including 7 in the third set, to lead a Columbia squad that produced a .252 hitting clip over the 4 sets of play. Junior middle blocker Nicole Murphy spearhead the Cougar defense that produced 13 blocks, 10 of which Murphy had a hand in collecting.
Azusa Pacific played well early in each of the first 3 sets, jumping out to 5-2 leads all 3 times. However, behind Trivunovic’s play, Columbia wore down Azusa Pacific to take sets 1 and 3.
The Cougars’ lone set win came on the strength of junior Marguerite Hanna, who registered 5 of her team-high 15 kills in the second set. Hanna, who returned to play this week at the NAIA Tournament after being shelved for 10 weeks with an injury, posted her best match of the season, hitting at a .433 clip while recording a season-high in kills. A Hanna kill gave Azusa Pacific a 22-21 lead and freshman Jackie Landers followed with 2 of her 13 kills to give the Cougars the second-set win to even the match at a set apiece,
For Columbia it was only the second set it had lost in the past 14 matches and the first in the NAIA Tournament.
Columbia’s defense, though, was focused on Azusa Pacific’s all-conference hitter Whittany Radcliffe, shadowing every move of the junior, who was able to convert just 10 of her 34 attacks into a kills, her lowest output in the past 16 matches.
With the match hanging in the balance late in the third set, Columbia scored 3 straight points to assume a 19-16 lead. An eventual Murphy block of Radcliffe gave Columbia a 25-22 set victory and a 2-sets-to-1 match lead.
Behind 4 Trivunovic kills, Columbia sprinted out to a 15-7 lead in the fourth set and never trailed, holding off a late Cougar fury in which Azusa Pacific pulled to within 3 points at 21-18. However, Murphy’s sixth kill of the match followed by her block of a Landers’ attack clinched the set and match victory for Columbia.
The match was a little more than an exhibition in play since both Cougar teams already knew they were advancing out of pool play by virtue of winning 2 matches earlier in the tournament.
Columbia moves directly into Friday (Dec. 3) evening’s quarterfinal round where it will meet the College of Idaho/California Baptist University winner. Azusa Pacific returns to the court Friday morning to take on Lewis-Clark State at 10 a.m. (CST). That winner will get top-ranked Lee University in the first quarterfinal later in the day at 5:45 p.m.
With today’s victory Columbia improves to 40-2. Azusa Pacific takes a 29-7 record into single-elimination play.