SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Azusa Pacific’s five-set wins served as an exciting rollercoaster run to the quarterfinals of the 2011 NAIA Volleyball National Championship, but the 18 sets played to get to the quarterfinals eventually took their toll against the tournament’s top-seeded and fully-rested Concordia, which posted a 25-13, 25-20, 25-16 victory over the Cougars Friday night.
Azusa Pacific, whose last five national tournament victories over the last two years have come in five sets, were making their fourth consecutive trip out of NAIA Tournament pool play, and their thrilling five-set win over Lewis-Clark State earlier in the day put the Cougars into the quarterfinals for the second time in three years. In addition, today’s results include a playoff-round win that pushed Azusa Pacific’s win total to 31, the fourth-highest total in program history and the best since 1991.
Concordia, which posted a three-set sweep and two four-set wins in pool play to advance directly into the quarterfinals, was predictably sharp, serving 12 aces and converting at an efficient .330 clip with 42 kills in 91 attempts. Fei Gao led the way, serving a match-high four aces, and Brooke Marino was the only player in the match to register double-digit digs, finishing with 15 kills in 28 attempts. Gao added nine kills in 19 errorless attempts for the Eagles, and Marino and Mindy Knight added three aces each.
Azusa Pacific was led by an eight-kill, three-block effort from senior right side hitter Whittany Radcliffe, and senior setter Raechel Jones registered 14 assists with a team-high 11 digs. During this week’s tournament, Jones became the 13th player and just the third setter in Azusa Pacific history to record 1,000 career digs when she tallied 13 digs Friday morning against Lewis-Clark State. She wraps up her four-year career with 1,021 digs, and senior libero Robin Portela added seven digs to her single-season (750) and career (2,318) digs records to lead the Cougars to the team single-season digs record (2,565).
With a pair of Gao aces during a 7-0 run early in the opening set, Concordia took a 12-3 lead and led by at least six points throughout the rest of a 25-13 opening-set win. The Eagles registered five aces in the opening set alone, and they added four more in the 25-20 second set that sent the Cougars to an early two-set deficit.
The third set featured another quick start for Concordia, as the Eagles raced out to an 8-2 lead behind a pair of aces from Mindy Knight. Three times Azusa Pacific was able to get back to within four points, the last time at 16-12, but the Cougars could not generate consecutive points again until match point when they fought off three of them to close a 24-13 gap to an eight-point margin before Concordia finished off the match.
Both teams posted their most efficient offensive set in the second, with Azusa Pacific notching 13 kills with just one error in 34 attempts. However, Concordia was practically perfect, turning 30 attempts into 18 kills for a .500 second-set hitting percentage.