COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Senior middle blocker Amy Alkazin picked up where Azusa Pacific’s middles left off in their last matchup with the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Vanguard, leading the No. 7 Cougars to a 32-30, 25-14, 21-25, 25-19 road win over the Lions with a season-high 18 kills and a match-high seven blocks.
Alkazin, who registered 13 kills with a .550 hitting percentage in the first meeting between the teams in Azusa earlier this year, committed only three errors in 26 attempts Tuesday night to post a season-best .577 attack percentage. Sophomore middle blocker Christy Cain was just as effective although in fewer attempts, converting for eight kills in 14 attempts for a .500 percentage while tying Alkazin for the blocking lead with seven.
Cain posted her career-high in kills in the first win over Vanguard, and Tuesday’s win helped Azusa Pacific move into sole possession of second place in the Golden State Athletic Conference just a week after falling a game out of that very spot after a five-set loss at Biola. While the Cougars have recovered from last week’s loss with wins over San Diego Christian and Vanguard, Fresno Pacific has dropped back-to-back conference matches, part of a three-match losing streak for the Sunbirds, whose 11-year GSAC championship streak has been snapped this season.
Azusa Pacific got the early edge in the match by surviving consecutive set points, rallying from a 24-22 deficit with a Marguerite Hanna kill followed by Alkazin and Whittany Radcliffe combining for a block that tied the set at 24-24. The Cougars finished with 15 blocks in the match, and the set-tying block was the fifth of the opening set alone.
After fighting off three additional set points with kills from Alkazin, Hanna, and sophomore outside hitter Jackie Landers, Azusa Pacific moved into the lead on a Krista Brenner kill that gave the Cougars a 28-27 lead. From there, it was Vanguard’s turn to fight off three set points, doing so successfully to tie the set at 30-30 before a Lions service error was followed by Azusa Pacific’s sixth block of the set, this one courtesy of Hanna and Alkazin to close out the 32-30 opening-set win.
The Cougars scored 10 of the first 14 points, and 15 of the first 21 in the second set, cruising to a 25-14 win to take a two-set lead in the match. Vanguard broke a 13-13 tie in the third set with three consecutive points, and the Lions forced a fourth set by holding off Azusa Pacific in the third, 25-21. However, the Cougars snapped a 13-13 tie in the fourth with four straight points, and Alkazin provided three of her 18 kills down the stretch to seal the match-deciding 25-19 fourth-set victory.
Landers finished with 15 kills in her 30 attempts, helping Azusa Pacific’s offense to convert at a .301 clip. Hanna was error-free, tallying six kills in 27 attempts while registering five blocks, and senior libero Robin Portela and junior defensive specialist Nicole Sepulveda both reached double-figures in digs to lead the Cougars to a 56-dig team total. Portela notched 20 digs, while Sepulveda added 11.
Vanguard was led by Jamie Heenan’s 17-kill, six-ace performance, and two others joined Heenan with double-digit kills. KaUwila Lavea finished with 12 kills, while Jessica Neves notched 10, but each of the Lions’ top three hitters committed at least six attack errors as Vanguard posted a team hitting percentage of .156 for the match.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 24-6 overall, 11-4 GSAC, while Vanguard drops to 20-10 overall, 9-6 GSAC. The Cougars host The Master’s on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m.