SAN DIEGO, Calif.-- The last time the Cougars and Sea Lions met, a young and relatively inexperienced Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team came away with the program’s first-ever Pacific West Conference victory. On Tuesday night the suddenly seasoned Cougars calmly brushed off a pair of disappointing sets to record their fourth series sweep of the season with a 3-2 victory over Point Loma (22-25, 25-12, 17-25, 25-22, 15-11).
The Sea Lions (9-14; 5-8 PWC) won the opening set, and controlled Azusa Pacific (18-7; 9-5 PWC) in the third before the Cougars rallied back for their seventh consecutive win, thanks in large part to Mattie Shelford’s career-high 19 kills, and Sophie Burns’s masterful orchestration of an attack that saw four players reach double-figure kills.
“Point Loma has been doing well and we knew they’d be at their best. We struggled at the beginning and then I thought we settled down. We’re doing well on the road and grinding out a lot of our wins,” said head coach Chris Keife after the team’s fifth straight road victory.
The Cougars got impressive performances from five newcomers, with Shelford leading the way. The freshman outside hitter opened the match on the right side, and connected for five kills in the opening set, before closing out the contest out on the left and finishing at a .359 clip on 19 kills for her best night of the season.
Joy Reinke continued her strong year, posting a season-high 22 digs to go along with 14 kills for Azusa Pacific’s only double-double. Fellow first-year Cougar Lauren Edwards tallied 10 kills, six blocks, four digs, and two aces as Keife’s squad got production from numerous sources.
“Mattie played really well for us. She started on the right side and hit over 70 percent, and then we moved her to the left and she continued to be effective. Her and Joy both were very efficient and then we also had Lauren play well,” said Keife. “A lot of girls are stepping up, and we have a lot of players that are ready to come in and step up when we call on them. There were a lot of positive things tonight, and of course it’s always good to go down to Point Loma and get a win.”
Freshman Ashley Vander Tuig was a force defensively, notching a match-high nine blocks, and four kills. First-year libero Ashley Swatek had 15 digs and seven assists.
And while the Cougars’ newbies were effective, Azusa Pacific got strong performances from its usual suspects. Burns was just two assists shy of tying her career-high with 48, helping to organize an offense that hit .273 on the night. The senior setter also added two aces, two blocks, and seven digs. Junior outside hitter Jackie Landers finished with 11 kills, and chipped in with eight digs, a block, and an assist.
The Cougars, who improved to 5-2 in five-set matches, took a commanding lead in the fifth against the Sea Lions only to see it slip away. Leading 11-5 Azusa Pacific allowed Point Loma to scratch back in it with five consecutive points. The Cougars, however, benefited from three consecutive attack errors from Kelli LeClair to move within match point before senior Nicole Sepulveda clinched the 15-11 victory with an ace.
In the fourth set Shelford and Reinke each posted five kills, while Vander Tuig tallied four blocks. The Cougars jumped out to a 7-1 advantage and eventually took a 20-12 lead. Point Loma then went on an 8-2 run to cut the Sea Lion deficit to two points. After that Edwards and Reinke alternated kills as the Cougars forced a fifth set.
Point Loma controlled much of the third set, recording 17 kills on a .469 attack percentage. Azusa Pacific mustered only one block in the set, and had a poor offensive showing, posting 10 kills and five attack errors. The Sea Lions propelled off a 7-1 run after the set was knotted at 4-4 to take an 11-5 lead on one of LeClair’s 27 kills. Azusa Pacific cut the deficit to as little as five, but dropped the game to trail 2-1.
The second set belonged to the Cougars. After dropping the opening game Azusa Pacific responded with the night’s most lopsided outcome. The Cougars jumped out to a 7-1 lead and didn’t look back. Landers registered five kills, while Shelford added four to help the team avoid a 2-0 hole.
In the opening set the Sea Lions won the first three points, and never trailed despite a late effort from the Cougars. Azusa Pacific tied the set at 17-17 and at 18-18, but was unable to take a lead, falling 25-22.
The Cougars, who have just two PacWest matches left (California Baptist and Holy Names), will host former Golden State Athletic Conference foe San Diego Christian on Thursday before a showdown with California Baptist in Riverside on Saturday. The two teams are currently tied with nine conference wins apiece, with the Lancers holding onto third place with two fewer losses.