ST. GEORGE, Utah.-- Azusa Pacific’s freshmen trio of Joy Reinke, Ashley Swatek, and Mattie Shelford led the Cougar women’s volleyball team as it rallied from a 1-0 deficit on Saturday afternoon to post a 3-1 defeat of Dixie State (13-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-17).
The Azusa Pacific volleyball team, which has been a pleasant surprise this year, demonstrated why, combining for 40 of the team's 56 kills along with along with seven assists, 21 digs, and four blocks.
After splitting the first two sets, Dixie State had two set-points at 24-22 in the third. Reinke, however, helped the Cougars’ stave off a loss, registering kills on consecutive points to save both set points for the Cougars. Mercedes O'Neil responded with a kill to give the Red Storm another chance at taking the set, but another pair of Reinke kills, sandwiched around an attack error by O'Neil gave, Azusa Pacific a 27-25 victory in the third set.
Reinke, the Cougars’ leading attacker, finished the match with 23 kills on 44 swings with only five errors. Reinke also tacked on 10 digs and three blocks as she led the Cougars to their seventh conference win of the season.
"Joy did very well," head coach Chris Keife said. "She executed at a high level, so it was good to see her step up as a freshman."
Azusa Pacific built on its momentum from stealing the third set to run away with the fourth. The Cougars won seven consecutive points with Swatek serving to take a commanding 11-4 lead in the fourth set. The Cougars continued to build on their advantage and eventually won 25-17. Swatek recorded 11 digs and six assists for the Cougars in the match.
Azusa Pacific struggled in the opening set , notching 10 attack errors with just nine kills. The Red Storm took advantage of that to get a quick 13-4 lead. Junior Pauline VonDinklage led Dixie State with three kills as they took the opening set 25-17.
The Cougars cut down the amount of errors in the second set to just six as they began to come back. The Cougars fell behind 0-2 in the beginning of the opening game, but Shelford came off the bench and had a pair of kills to keep the lead manageable.
After trailing 5-6, the Cougars capitalized on four attack errors by the Red Storm and a pair of Reinke kills to take an 11-6 lead. Shelford had four more kills in that set, helping the Cougars to hold onto that lead and even the score at one set each. Shelford finished the match with 17 kills, four digs, and a block.
"The girls who came in off the bench did a very good job," Keife said. "We got rocked, we just weren’t ready to play in the first set...and the girls who came in sparked everything for us."
The Cougars had 32 kills and 12 attack errors in the rest of the match as they claimed the four-set victory. Dixie state had a total of 45 kills and just 23 attack errors in the match.
Not to be overlooked, freshman middle blocker Ashley Vander Tuig stepped up for the Cougars in the victory. Vander Tuig paced the team with six blocks and also notched seven kills on 18 attacks.
Senior setter Sophie Burns finished the game with team-highs of 39 assists, 13 digs, and a pair of service aces.
The win concludes Azusa Pacific's road trip, during which the Cougars were 4-2, winning each of the final four games.
"It’s good to get home," Keife admitted. "We were in Hawaii for so long, so even though we’ve had two days off we haven’t had a chance to get on a schedule. It’s been rough, and the girls have pulled through. It’ll be nice to get home and not have any major road trips left."
The team's record is now 15-7 overall and 7-5 in conference play. The Cougars, who are in sixth place in the PacWest, return home on Tuesday to face a Cal State San Marcosteam that the Cougars beat in straight sets earlier this season.
Dixie State is now 6-10 overall and 4-7 in conference play. The Red Storm will travel to Arizona on Monday to face Grand Canyon.
The Cougars and Red Storm will meet again in the Felix Event Center next Saturday as Azusa Pacific will try to secure the season sweep over Dixie State.