FRESNO, Calif. -- When Fresno Pacific lost its first three matches of the 2011 season, the Sunbirds’ run of Golden State Athletic Conference dominance and its 11-year streak of conference titles seemed very much in doubt.
Riding the emotion of a near-capacity crowd for its home opener, Fresno Pacific threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the league with a 25-18, 25-20, 25-23 sweep over the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific Tuesday night in a match where the Cougars put forth a quality performance that simply wasn’t up to the level of the four-time defending NAIA national champions.
Seniors Whittany Radcliffe and Amy Alkazin spearheaded a balanced, efficient offense that converted for a solid .261 attack percentage, and senior libero Robin Portela turned in a match-high 19 digs to lead the defense. However, the difference in the match came from the Sunbirds hitting through and around the Cougar front line, which managed only three blocks in the match, and a passing game that conceded eight service aces to Fresno Pacific.
Radcliffe led all hitters with a match-high 17 kills on 34 swings, and Alkazin added 12 kills in 26 attempts. Other than Portela’s 19-dig effort, no other Cougar tallied more than six kills or seven digs in the match. Sophomore middle blocker Christy Cain factored into two of the three team blocks.
Fresno Pacific was led by Kathleen Anderson’s 14-kill, one-error performance, and Jessie Alcorn added 12 kills for the Sunbirds, who have won 41 straight matches spanning the past 18 seasons against Azusa Pacific. Anderson was also the match blocks leader with four, while Alcorn added three blocks with six digs.
The loss is Azusa Pacific’s fourth in the past six matches, although the schedule has been undeniably treacherous. Only one of the Cougars’ past six opponents has been ranked outside of its affiliation’s top 20, with tonight’s loss joining three defeats to top-10 foes.
The loss sets the Cougars back to a 1-2 GSAC start, and the overall record drops to 14-4. Azusa Pacific’s brutal stretch continues with back-to-back top-ten clashes at home against No. 7 Point Loma Nazarene on Saturday, Sept. 24, and No. 10 Biola next Tuesday, Sept. 27.