FULLERTON, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Azusa Pacific closed out its final Golden State Athletic Conference campaign with a flourish, handing Hope International a 25-16, 25-18, 25-14 sweep to end the conference schedule with wins in 13 of the final 15 matches for a second-place conference finish.
The GSAC runner-up Cougars tied the program’s best-ever conference placement, and the win was the 27th this year for Azusa Pacific, tying the program record for regular-season wins. The 1980, 1983, and 1991 squads all won 27 times in the regular season before moving on to postseason play, but this year’s group has one regular-season contest remaining, a Tuesday, Nov. 15 visit from former GSAC and future Pacific West Conference rival California Baptist University, to establish a new standard.
Friday’s win in the GSAC finale integrated a wide variety of positive elements common to the majority of Azusa Pacific’s 2011 successes. The Cougars featured a balanced attack across the entire front line, with five players taking between 15 and 22 swings. Leading the way were the middle blockers, as senior Amy Alkazin tallied a near-perfect 13 kills in 17 attempts with just one error for a .706 attack percentage.
Sophomore Christy Cain added eight kills with one error in 15 attempts, and sophomore outside hitter Jackie Landers contributed 10 kills in 20 attempts. On the right side, senior Whittany Radcliffe notched nine kills.
Defensively, Azusa Pacific registered only three blocks, but senior libero Robin Portela notched a match-high 19 of the Cougars’ 48 total digs. Fifteen different players appeared in two or more sets in the match, which wrapped up Azusa Pacific’s final GSAC campaign with a 14-4 conference record.
Alkazin tallied three kills during an 11-2 run early in the opening set, and the Cougars led the rest of the 25-16 set by at least six points. In the second set, Hope International hung around through an 8-8 tie before Azusa Pacific put together a 12-2 run that put the second set out of reach in a 25-18 result. In the third set, the Cougars scored 10 of the first 14 points before closing the gap to four points at 13-9. That’s when Azusa Pacific scored eight of the next nine points, to push the lead back into double digits en route to the 25-14 win.
The Cougars, now 27-6 on the year, are home in non-conference action on Tuesday, Nov. 15, although the announcement of national tournament qualifiers and Opening Round matchups will come out on Sunday, Nov. 13. Azusa Pacific swept both of its matches this week to solidify its place in the top 6 of the national rankings, which gives the Cougars an Opening Round bye and a spot in the 24-team field at the final site in Sioux City, Iowa.
Hope International, which was led by Sine Schirmer’s 10-kill night, fell to 5-26 overall, 1-17 GSAC.