KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First it was head coach Chris Keife’s 200th career coaching victory. A day later, senior libero Robin Portela set the Azusa Pacific career digs record. Now the whole team is in on the act.
The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Cougars tied the program record for longest season-opening win streak, improving to 12-0 for the second straight year and becoming just the third team in program history to win 12 in a row at the front end of a campaign. Prior to last year, the only other Azusa Pacific team to win 12 straight at the beginning of the year was the 1980 squad, which went on to win the NAIA title.
“It’s always nice to start the year well, but we’re playing for the end, not the present,” Keife said. “I’m happy with how our girls are going about the daily routine of practice and heading into matches, and it just feels like they’re mentally sharp. However, I’m definitely looking forward to being tested this weekend, both mentally and physically, and getting a good idea of where we stand heading into GSAC play.”
Leading the way in Wednesday’s victory was senior middle blocker Amy Alkazin, who led a balanced team effort with team-highs of 10 kills and four blocks. Senior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe added nine kills without an error in 20 attack attempts, while Portela continued her push towards 2,000 career digs with 22 digs, her tenth match with 20-plus digs this season. Portela now has 1,828 career digs.
As a team, Azusa Pacific turned in an outstanding .342 attack percentage, cashing in 47 kills against only seven attack errors. The Cougars also out-blocked Avila, 7-2, out-dug them by a 63-43 margin, and served three aces to two surrendered.
Azusa Pacific’s road trip into Missouri gets significantly tougher this weekend, when the Cougars take on a trio of highly-ranked NCAA Div. II programs at the University of Central Missouri-hosted Peggy Martin Challenge.
“It will be good to get tested this weekend and see which areas we’re good and which areas we need to fix heading into conference,” Keife said.
Two of last year’s NCAA Div. II semifinalists (Tampa and Central Missouri) are on the weekend schedule, along with Emporia State (Kan.), which is currently ranked No. 17 nationally. Tampa and Central Missouri are both ranked in the top 10 of the latest Div. II poll, with Tampa, the defending national runner-up, holding down No. 3 while Central Missouri is ranked No. 8.
After the challenging weekend slate, Azusa Pacific returns home next week to kick off Golden State Athletic Conference play when it hosts Hope International on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m.