SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- With a couple of Thursday upsets, Azusa Pacific could have charted its path into the quarterfinals, but the NAIA's No. 6-seeded Cougars suffered one of the upsets it was seeking in a 25-20, 25-15, 25-23 defeat to No. 7-seeded Rocky Mountain (Mont.) College to conclude pool play at the 2011 NAIA Volleyball National Championship.
Although the loss doesn't eliminate the Cougars from the 12-team single-elimination portion of the tournament, it does complicate their ability to easily navigate through Friday's single-elimination playoff round and quarterfinals matchups. After the tournament is re-seeded with pool-play winners followed by pool runner-ups, Azusa Pacific drops to the No. 8 seed, taking on No. 9 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) at 10 a.m. (CST) in a playoff-round matchup. The winner of that match moves on to face the tournament's top-seeded Concordia (Calif.) in a 5:45 p.m. quarterfinal matchup.
Rocky Mountain piled up 13 blocks against Azusa Pacific, holding the Cougar offense to a .129 hitting percentage while doing their best work against the Cougar outside hitters, who were limited to a combined eight kills in 39 attempts. Jillian Bates, a 6-foot-2 All-Frontier Conference right side hitter, led the way with a match-high seven blocks along with six kills for the Battlin' Bears, whose offense converted at a .340 clip and was led by a 17-kill effort from senior outside hitter Sara Brunner, another All-Frontier Conference first teamer.
Azusa Pacific spent all but one point of the match either trailing or tied, taking its only lead with the opening point of the third set. Senior All-GSAC right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe and senior All-GSAC middle blocker Amy Alkazin produced solid performances, finding their way around the Rocky Mountain block for 12 kills and 11 kills, respectively, and both registered hitting percentages over .300.
However, no other Cougar had more than five kills, and senior All-GSAC libero Robin Portela was the only Azusa Pacific defender to reach double figures in digs, finishing with 12. Sophomore defensive specialist Emily Ingalls and setters Raechel Jones and Sophie Burns each registered seven digs. Senior middle blocker Ariel Beetstra made her first appearance in this year's NAIA Tournament, and she registered three kills in 13 attempts in two sets of action.
Azusa Pacific had won both previous meetings with Rocky Mountain, including a five-set victory in last year's NAIA Tournament pool play opener. The loss drops the Cougars' overall record to 30-7, while Rocky Mountain moves on to a playoff-round matchup with College of Idaho.