SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Using a lineup with three true freshmen, Azusa Pacific secured two more wins Saturday to complete a perfect weekend at the Seaside Invitational hosted by Point Loma.
In the first match of the day, the Cougars split two tightly-contested early sets with Cal State Stanislaus before pulling away for a four-set victory. That was followed by a three-set sweep of Northwest Nazarene which got Azusa Pacific out to a 4-0 start in its opening season of NCAA Div. II competition.
“I knew we had a good chance to have success early on this season, but I also knew we would be tested by the teams we played,” Cougar head coach Chris Keife said. “We were tested in all of our matches, and even though the youth of our team showed at times, it was exciting to see that during crunch time we managed the game well and did what we needed to do to come out on top.”
In the first match of the day, a 29-27, 21-25, 25-17, 25-16 win over Cal State Stanislaus, senior setter Sophie Burns orchestrated a balanced attack which featured three hitters who reached double figures in kills, while another pair notched eight kills apiece. Junior outside hitter Jackie Landers led the way with 14 kills, while freshmen Joy Reinke and Ashley Vander Tuig each collected 12.
“Sophie did a great job running the offense,” Keife said. “She spread it around very well, and she ran the show effectively as a senior who really knows what I expect.”
Vander Tuig added 10 blocks, leading a Cougar blocking effort that finished with 13 team blocks in the match. Freshman Ashley Swatek collected a team-high 14 digs, while Burns added 11 digs to go with her 38 assists. The Cougars fought off two set points in the opening set, turning a 27-26 deficit into the 29-27 win on a Reinke ace followed by a set-clinching Vander Tuig block. Cal State Stanislaus reeled off nine straight points early in the second set, picking up a 25-21 win despite allowing Azusa Pacific to tie the score three times late in the set.
The Cougars erased an early third-set deficit with a 9-1 run, which included four of Vander Tuig’s 12 kills in the match, and another one-point margin disappeared in the fourth set with a 13-4 run. Burns and fellow senior Breezy Funk each recorded aces in the run, which allowed the Cougars to cruise to a match-clinching 25-16 win.
“As a group, we’re relying on a lot of young people in several different areas,” Keife said. “All of them are being relied on in crunch time, and they’re doing great. We’ve relied on different attackers, and the way we’re spreading our offense around, they have all been able to hold their own.”
Burns spread the offense around again in a 25-19, 25-17, 26-24 victory over Northwest Nazarene, notching team-highs of 35 assists and 12 digs while setting up four hitters with at least 13 attempts each. Reinke’s 13 kills led the way, with fellow freshman Mattie Shelford adding 11 kills while Landers recorded nine.
Azusa Pacific never trailed in the opening set and faced its largest second-set deficit of two points at 6-4 before reeling off a 15-4 run to take control of the set. In the third set, the Cougars went back-and-forth with Northwest Nazarene, and the Crusaders even took a set-point 24-23 lead before Azusa Pacific closed out the match with kills from Reinke and Landers before a Northwest Nazarene attack error that sealed the sweep.
With the victories, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0 on the season. The Cougars visit Hope International on Tuesday, Sept. 4, before returning to more Div. II competition next weekend at the Cal Poly Pomona tournament.