AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific’s five-set win over Academy of Art Friday night at the Felix Event Center represented the best and worst of the young roster, as the Cougars dominated the three sets they won in a match they shouldn’t have needed to take all the way to five sets.
The final score of 25-11, 28-30, 25-13, 23-25, 15-6 perfectly captured the inconsistent play throughout, as Azusa Pacific was practically unstoppable in the first, third, and fifth sets despite allowing the two sets in between to slip away. Still, the result lifted the Cougars to their second straight Pacific West Conference victory and a 10-2 overall record.
There was plenty to like about the Azusa Pacific performance, starting with a balanced offense orchestrated by setters Sophie Burns and Tristan Racich that featured five different hitters with double-digit kills. Burns and Racich combined for 54 assists, and freshman Joy Reinke shared the match-high in kills with Jackie Landers with 16 each. Hayley Beetstra added 14 kills with three blocks, and Ashley Vander Tuig tallied 10 kills on just 21 attempts to go with three blocks.
In addition to her 34 assists, Burns was one of three Cougars with double-figures in digs, finishing with 16 while Reinke added 19 and freshman Ashley Swatek led all defenders with a match-high 29 digs. Burns was also tough from the service line, tying Lauren Edwards for the match-high in aces with four each. Reinke added a pair of aces, as well, giving the Cougars 10 for the match, and Edwards was the fifth Azusa Pacific hitter with double-digit kills, finishing with 12 kills on 23 attacks.
The opening set was all Azusa Pacific, with 14 of the Cougars’ 28 attack attempts turning into kills, while Burns served up three of her four aces in the opening 25-11 win, which opened with a 13-0 run to start the match. The second set was a different story altogether, as Academy of Art came up with eight blocks, including one out of a timeout which helped spark the Urban Knights to rally from a 23-19 deficit with four straight points. Academy of Art had four chances to clinch the set, eventually doing so at 29-28 when a long rally ended in a Cougar attack error for the 30-28 win that evened the match at one set apiece.
Azusa Pacific never trailed in the third set, leading by as many as 13 points (23-10) before wrapping up a 25-13 win. The match seemed all but over when the Cougars jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the fourth set, but Academy of Art got right back into the match with a 12-2 run, tying the score at 10-all before moving ahead by as many as six points (18-12) later in the set. Azusa Pacific still trailed by six at 23-17 before scoring six of the next seven points to get within two (24-22), but an Edwards attack was blocked Lindsay Elgin and Angela Heath to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
The Cougars closed out the fifth set with a match-ending 11-2 run, turning a 4-3 deficit into the 15-6 win to improve to 3-0 in five-set matches this season. Over the past four years, Azusa Pacific is 26-3 in matches that last five sets, including seven in a row dating back to last season.
The Cougars return to action Saturday, hosting Fresno Pacific at the Felix Event Center at 3 p.m. Academy of Art falls to 3-9 on the year and 0-3 in PacWest play. The Urban Knights have gone to five sets in five of their 12 matches this year, including four of its past six contests.