VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS & INTERVIEWS BELOW
AZUSA, Calif. -- All can be forgotten when victory over Biola is at stake.
For senior outside hitter Marguerite Hanna, a career performance to lead the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific to an improbable five-set come-from-behind win over the Eagles made for a night she’ll never forget.
The Cougars rallied twice from a set down, and Hanna led the way with a career-high 18 kills. Four of them came in the final set, including the match-winner, which put the finishing touches on a 10-25, 27-25, 19-25, 26-24, 15-10 victory.
“Going into the fifth set, it was all on the line,” said Hanna, one of seven seniors on the Cougar roster. “This was our last time to play Biola at home, and we needed to take the victory.”
Hanna, who spent significant portions of the past two seasons on the sidelines battling injuries, didn’t have much playing experience against Azusa Pacific’s primary rival in her memory bank. She had only played in one of the four matches of the rivalry since her 2008 freshman year, and the last time she played the Eagles she had a tough nine-kill, 10-error night in a five-set Cougar win.
Azusa Pacific was forced to adjust its lineup due to the absence of regular starting setter Raechel Jones, who did not play due to an unspecified illness. Adjusting to a brand-new lineup brought disastrous results in the opening set, as Biola reeled off eight consecutive points in response to an early 5-3 Cougar lead. Azusa Pacific scored only five points the rest of the set, giving up 22 of the final 27 points in a 25-10 defeat.
“Last year, we had two really tough losses to Biola,” Hanna said. “We remember that feeling, and that’s not Azusa Pacific volleyball. We had a lot to prove this year, especially being down some people and having to step it up. We just had to change the momentum somehow.”
The second set was an entirely different story. The teams were tied at 19 of a possible 25 points, with the lead changing hands eight times in the set. Sophomore outside hitter Jackie Landers helped keep her team alive with seven kills in the set, including one that broke a 25-all deadlock and sent the Cougars towards the narrow 27-25 set win.
“Biola was playing great, and we were struggling a little bit with our new lineup,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “Working through those struggles allowed us to find a good rhythm. Biola really played well in the first set, and the sets they won, they overpowered us. The sets we won, I felt we really struggled and fought to get those wins, and we were definitely a different team when we won those sets.”
A 5-2 lead early in the third set was erased by a 7-0 Biola run, and although the Cougars were within a point at 20-19, the Eagles reeled off another five-point burst to close out a 25-19 third set. Neither team led by more than three points in the fourth set, and Azusa Pacific nearly squandered the fourth set when Biola fought off three consecutive set points to tie the score at 24-24. However, middle blockers Christy Cain and Amy Alkazin put down back-to-back kills for a 26-24 win that sent the match to the decisive fifth set.
“The Point Loma win helped us a lot, just to know that in this (five-set) situation we can be comfortable,” Keife said. “We know we’re at home, and we play well here.”
Each of Hanna’s four fifth-set kills resulted in an Azusa Pacific side out, with her first of the set giving the Cougars the lead for good at 2-1. Her next one pushed the lead to two points (6-4), and the third of the frame made it a 12-8 margin before she delivered the match-winner. Her 18-kill performance was only the second time this year she had notched a double-figure kill total, and it provided Azusa Pacific with the boost it desperately needed.
“It always feels good to beat Biola, especially at home, and it will be fun to see what happens the next time we play them,” Keife said.
In Jones’ absence, junior Sophie Burns handled full-time setting duties for the Cougars, and she provided 47 assists, easily eclipsing her previous career-high of 29 assists. Burns also registered 13 digs, one of four Cougars in double figures in that category. Senior libero Robin Portela had a match-high 25 digs, and Alkazin added 16 digs to go with her seven kills and team-high six blocks. Landers finished with 16 kills, and sophomore Breezy Funk delivered a career-high 14 digs as a back-row specialist. Burns and Funk also led all servers with a pair of aces apiece.
Biola, whose balanced attack featured five hitters who entered the match averaging over two kills per set, had five players register between 10 and 12 kills. Amy Weststeyn led the Eagles with 12 kills, along with seven blocks, and Rachel Buckley collected a match-high eight of Biola’s 17 team blocks to go with eight kills.
With the win, Azusa Pacific pulls even with Biola in the early Golden State Athletic Conference standings, improving to 3-2 in conference play and 16-4 overall. Biola, which has now suffered back-to-back five-set defeats against NAIA Top-10 competition, falls to 15-6 overall with a 3-2 GSAC mark.
The Cougars, who went 4-4 over their last eight matches in a grueling three-week stretch that included seven opponents ranked in the NAIA or NCAA Division II top 25, return to action on Saturday, Oct. 1, with a visit to unranked San Diego Christian.