AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Azusa Pacific battled through a slow start Saturday to post another pair of wins, handing Northwest (Wash.) University a four-set defeat before collecting its third sweep in four matches with a three-set victory over Concordia (Ore.) to wrap up the season-opening Cougar Classic.
Senior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe was the Cougars’ kills leader in both matches, collecting 19 kills in the four-set win over Northwest before registering another 18 without an attack error in the sweep of Concordia. The defense was led for the second straight day by senior libero Robin Portela, who had 24 digs in the day’s opening match before coming back for 25 more in the afternoon to give her four consecutive 20-dig performances for the first time in her career.
Senior middle blocker Amy Alkazin tallied 10 kills in each match and was Azusa Pacific’s blocks leader on the day with eight total blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Jackie Landers collected 14 kills in the opening match, warming up later for nine kills on 17 errorless attempts. Against Concordia, the Cougars’ kill-leading trio of Landers, Alkazin, and Radcliffe combined for 37 kills with only two errors for a .515 combined attack percentage.
“We still didn’t start out as well as we would like, but we also showed glimpses of how well we are capable of playing,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “Now we just have to find a way to improve our consistency in playing at that level. The more you win early in the season, the bigger the target becomes on your back. We need to understand that every opponent is going to be gunning for us, so we have to keep working hard to achieve our full potential as a team.”
In the opening set against Northwest, it took three consecutive Landers kills for Azusa Pacific to take the lead for good, turning a 17-15 deficit into a 25-19 victory with a set-ending 10-2 run. Sophomore middle blocker Christy Cain provided the set-clinching point with one of her five kills in the match, and a block from Cain and Radcliffe closed out a 25-22 second set for the Cougars.
The third set featured 12 ties, the last coming at 22-22 before Northwest reeled off a three-point burst for a 25-22 win that forced an extra set. In the fourth set, Landers again tallied three consecutive kills during a 7-0 run that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good in a 25-19 win that sealed the match for the Cougars.
Against Northwest, Azusa Pacific recorded 101 digs, with five different players reaching double figures in digs. In addition to Portela’s 24, Alkazin added 19 digs plus five blocks while senior outside hitter Marguerite Hanna contributed 18 digs to go with a team-high two aces and six kills. Senior setter Raechel Jones added 15 digs with 27 assists and a pair of aces, and junior setter Sophie Burns notched 11 digs with 18 assists. Landers registered four blocks, as did senior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra, while Alkazin had a hand in half of the Cougars’ 10 team blocks.
Through the first two sets of the Concordia match, the Cougar offense committed only six attack errors, and despite committing eight more in the third set alone, Azusa Pacific still recorded 21 kills in a 25-23 third set that completed the sweep. Radcliffe had nine of her 18 kills in the final set, while Landers tallied six of her nine in the third set.
Azusa Pacific jumped out to a 17-7 lead in a 25-14 opening set, and the Cougars then erased a three-point deficit midway through the second scoring nine in a row to turn a 13-10 deficit into a 19-13 lead.
Six different players recorded kills in the second set, a 25-18 win, and Radcliffe and Landers scored a combined 15 kills in the third set. Concordia led by a point twice in the final seven points of the match, but Radcliffe accounted for four of the final five points of the match with four of her match-high 18 kills.
Azusa Pacific is back in action with three matches during a weekend swing through the Bay Area in northern California, including a matchup with an unranked Oregon Tech squad that knocked off the NAIA’s top-ranked Fresno Pacific in a five-set upset Saturday that kept the NAIA’s defending volleyball champions winless through two matches of the 2011 campaign.