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AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific women's volleyball team battled past the Sea Lions of Point Loma in four sets to earn the first Pacific West Conference victory in the program's history Saturday afternoon in the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars (9-2, 1-1) grabbed a two-set lead after winning by scores of 25-22 and 25-23 before the Sea Lions ran away with the third set, 25-17, to keep the match alive. However, in the fourth set the Cougars shut the door, winning 25-18.
"It was a good team win," said head coach Chris Keife. "We had a lot of girls who came off the bench and contributed. We had multiple players with double-digit kills and four girls with double-digit digs as well. We worked on some things after the California Baptist loss and the team responded well."
After dropping the third set, the Cougars played their best volleyball in the final frame as Azusa Pacific won six of the first seven points behind the serve of junior outside hitter Jackie Landers. The Cougars' junior middle blocker Lauren Edwards led the offense in the fourth set with four kills, including on match point, giving Azusa Pacific int seventh win over PLNU dating back to 2009. Edwards was errorless as an attacker and finished the game with a team-high .476 attack percentage to go with two service aces.
Azusa Pacific was led offensively by freshman outside hitter Joy Reinke, who had 18 kills on 40 attacks and merely four attack errors. Seven of Reinke's kills came in the first set, including on set point, giving the Cougars the early lead.
"[Reinke] did a really good job of finding hands, finding the court, and keeping the ball in play when she needed to," said Keife. “There were multiple girls who stepped up, but she was the one who was leading our offense throughout the first two sets."
Sea Lion Kelli LeClair equaled a team-high of 12 kills in the match, including a second-set kill that handed Point Loma (3-6, 0-1) its first lead of the day at 16-15. However, the Cougars took the edge back at 22-21 off a kill from Hayley Beetstra. Azusa Pacific won three of the next five points, to earn a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Cougars' senior setter, Sophie Burns, led the team with 15 assists and six digs in the crucial second set, including her assist to Reinke that gave the Cougars set point. On the following point, sophomore outside hitter Delaney McCraney had one of her only three attack errors in the match, giving the Cougars a two-set advantage.
In the third set, the Sea Lions managed to change the momentum opening on a 10-3 scoring run, during which six different players had kills. The Cougars capitalized on four PLNU errors in the next seven points to regain the lead in the set at 12-11.
Both teams traded points in the must-win set for the visiting team until the Sea Lions took a slight 16-15 lead. At that point, PLNU broke away, winning seven of the final nine point during a stretch that saw McCraney tally two kills and two aces. She finished with 12 kills in the match.
Burns facilitated the Cougar offense as the team's starting setter, assisting on 43 of the Cougars’ 53 kills. Burns also finished with a team-high 14 digs.
"[Burns] did a good job of running the offense," said Keife. "She is the senior leader out there, so for her to lead us defensively and run the offense as well helps us out a lot."
Landers tacked on 12 kills on 37 attacks and three blocks for the home team, while freshman middle blocker Ashley Vander Tuig had seven kills and a match-high four blocks.
Azusa Pacific returns to the court on September 21 in a PacWest showdown against Academy of Art.
"There is always room for improvement," Keife said, "But I am feeling good with where we are right now. We have a lot of youth on our team and have five freshmen playing at different times, which is exciting to see. There are a lot of positive signs."