AZUSA, Calif. -- It wasn’t a pretty win, as five-set matches rarely are, but the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific kept its composure despite dropping consecutive sets to rally for a 25-16, 18-25, 23-25, 25-22, 15-7 win over No. 7 Point Loma Nazarene Saturday afternoon at the Felix Event Center.
Freshman outside hitter Jackie Landers led the way with a match-high 21 kills, just one away from tying her career-high, but it was a team defensive effort that kept the Cougars alive long enough to rally for the win. Five different players had 12 or more digs for Azusa Pacific, which posted 95 total digs and surrendered only one service ace in the match.
The Cougars needed every one of those digs, too, because the service game came up with only three aces and the front line accounted for only one block in the first two sets of the match. Senior libero Robin Portela led the way with her 14th 20-dig match of the year, although it was her first of the Golden State Athletic Conference campaign.
Junior setter Sophie Burns added 18 digs along with 19 assists, and senior middle blocker Amy Alkazin and sophomore Nicole Sepulveda tallied 16 digs apiece. Senior setter Raechel Jones added 12 digs to her team-high 26 assists. Senior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe posted 16 kills, and sophomore middle blocker Christy Cainhad six of her 11 kills in the opening set to lead the Cougars to the convincing 25-16 first-set win.
However, after that opening set, Point Loma answered with a 25-18 win to even the match, scoring six of the first seven points of the set and leading by as much as eight points in the second set. The third set featured 15 tie scores and six lead changes, the last at 23-all before Delaney McCraney’s kill was followed by an Alyssa Dwyer/Tabitha Henken block that gave the Sea Lions a two-sets-to-one lead in the match.
The Cougars rallied from five points and a set down, scoring eight of nine points in a stretch that completely erased a 15-10 Point Loma Nazarene lead and catapulted Azusa Pacific back into the lead at 18-16. The Cougars never trailed again in the match, scoring the first three points of the fifth set before leading by at least two points the rest of the match.
Point Loma Nazarene was led by Taylor Lane’s 18 kills, although Henken and Dwyer were more efficient in a combined 30-kill performance for the Sea Lions. Dwyer registered a match-high eight blocks, Aimee Bird collected a match-high 23 digs, and Point Loma’s libero Caitlin Bernardin notched 22 digs.
Prior to Saturday’s win, Azusa Pacific had lost four of its previous six matches, although all four defeats had come to teams ranked in the top-20 of either NAIA or NCAA Division II.
With the win, the Cougars improve to 15-4 overall and 2-2 GSAC, while Point Loma Nazarene drops to 9-3 overall, 1-3 GSAC. Azusa Pacific wraps up one of its toughest portions of the schedule next week, hosting No. 10-ranked Biola on Tuesday, Sept. 27.