LOS ANGELES, Calif.-- It may be getting a little old to refer to this team as young, considering how it’s played through the first nine matches of the season. And while the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team’s youth is apparent to anyone that looks at the roster, the way the Cougars look on the court is a much different story. Case in point with Azusa Pacific’s latest feat: another 2-0 performance against a pair of NCAA DIv. II teams away from home as the Cougars registered their second five-set win over Cal State Dominguez Hills (25-22, 25-19, 23-25, 19-25, 15-10) in the past week, before defeating tournament host Cal State Los Angeles in four sets (25-22, 25-23, 18-25, 25-21) in the nightcap to improve to 8-1 in 2012.
“I’m very impressed with our team and how well we’re competing and battling in key moments. It seems like in every match we’re put in clutch situations and the whole team continues to push through and make plays,” said head coach Chris Keife.
Jackie Landers registered a team-high 40 kills in the two matches, continuing to lead the Cougar attack. Landers had 19 kills in the victory against Dominguez Hills, and added 21 in the win over the Eagles, pushing her total to 139 on the year. And as Landers has been the constant in the Cougars’ attack, the team has seen a different young player fill the role at No. 2 in each match this year. Today it was Mattie Shelford’s turn.
Shelford had a career-high 17 kills against the Toros in match one, and nearly hit that mark again in the second contest, finishing with 16 against the Eagles.
“I feel good. Jackie has been doing a great job of carrying our offensive load. She’s been there for us in every set. And we’re getting a lot of kills from a lot of our youth. It comes from a different young player every day and it’s kind of fun to just wait and see who’s going to step up,” said Keife.
Freshman Joy Reinke added 19 kills on the day, while junior newcomer Lauren Edwards added 14, thanks in large part to senior setter Sophie Burns. Burns, who has directed the Azusa Pacific offense all season, registered a career-high 48 assists in the win over Cal State Dominguez Hills, and came back to setup the Cougar hitters for 31 kills against the Eagles.
“Sophie is doing a nice job with her leadership and play on the court. She’s so important to what we do. When she’s doing a good job our team is doing well,” said Keife.
Burns contributed with 16 digs against Cal State L.A., while adding eight digs and two blocks vs. the Toros. Freshman middle Ashley Vander Tuig continued to perform on Friday, notching 11 blocks and 10 kills, including the match winner after the Eagles held off two match points from the Cougars.
In that first match Azusa Pacific got double-digit kills from four players, and another double-double from Reinke, who tallied 11 kills and 15 digs. Freshman libero Ashley Swatek finished with a match-high 23 digs, and tabbed four aces. In the second match Burns posted 31 assists, while freshman setter Tristan Racich recorded 14. Burns and Swatek each had 16 digs, and Vander Tuig added six blocks.
The Cougars, who improved to 5-1 against NCAA Div. II teams this year, will begin play in the Pacific West Conference against a familiar opponent, California Baptist, on Tuesday as Azusa Pacific unveils the new-look of the Felix Event Center.
“I’m excited to see all of the hard work we’ve put in and see the atmosphere for our fans,” said Keife. “It’s going to be a tough match, but for us it’s worrying about our side of the net and what we can do. We know California Baptist. It’s kind of nice to play someone you’ve been accustomed to playing over the past 10-15 years.”
The match is slated to start at 7:00 p.m., and will be streamed online at no cost.