AZUSA, Calif.-- Senior setter Sophie Burns recorded a career-high 55 assists to help the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team escape with a 3-1 (25-18, 25-27, 25-8, 25-23) victory over Dominican (Calif.), giving the Cougars their ninth straight 20-win season.
Azusa Pacific (20-8) nearly rallied back from a 6-0 hole in the second set before falling 27-25, but showed grit in recovering from a 16-10 deficit in the fourth, scoring 15 of the final 22 points to post their ninth win in the last 10 matches. The victory improved head coach Chris Keife’s string of 20-win seasons at Azusa Pacific to nine, giving the ninth-year coach nearly half of the program’s 20-win years. Over the previous 27 season the Cougars reached the 20-win plateau just 10 times.
“I’ve been very blessed to coach the kind of players that we’ve had. It’s because of them that we’ve had so much success,” said Keife. “I couldn’t be more proud of the players we have, and have had through the years, and reaching 20 wins again is just a testament to them and all of the hard work they’ve put in.”
Burns, who now ranks sixth on the team’s all-time assists list with 2,524, guided an Azusa Pacific attack that saw four players reach double-digit kills. The Santa Clarita native found her favorite target, Jackie Landers for a match-high 20 kills, but distributed the ball evenly, helping Lauren Edwards post 14 kills on 25 attempts, and feeding Joy Reinke to the tune of 13 kills.
“I didn’t feel like this was one of my better games, so I have to give credit to the hitters for what they were able to do. They were all able to find the floor and work with what I gave them,” said Burns. “I thought the team overall played really well. They were very scrappy, but we sustained a lot of long rallies and found a way to get the win.”
Burns finished with a double-double, adding 11 digs and two blocks to her career-night. Freshman middle blocker Ashley Vander Tuig registered 10 kills and five blocks, while rookie libero Ashley Swatek was crucial to the win with 27 digs, helping the Cougars to fight off multiple lengthy rallies.
The Cougars trailed in every set but the third, managing to overcome a strong effort from the Penguins (4-17), who played much better than their record would indicate. In the opener Dominican scored the first point, but the Cougars responded to make it a 3-1 game after a Penguin attack error and two kills from Edwards. Azusa Pacific pushed its lead to as many as 10 at 23-13, and eventually sealed the set on the sixth kill of the night from Edwards, who efficiently notched 14 kills at a .440 clip.
In the second set Dominican jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of aces, and three Cougar errors. Azusa Pacific, however, crawled back in it, scoring six of the next eight points before taking a 12-11 lead. The Penguins then went on a 4-1 run to make it a 15-12 set, and led by as many as five at 19-14. But the Cougars fought back with six kills, including three from Reinke, over the next nine points to tie it at 21-21. But despite their late rallies the Cougars eventually fell 27-25 after holding off a pair of set points, tying the match at 1-1.
In the third set Azusa Pacific responded in impressive fashion, blowing out the Penguins 25-8. Landers and Edwards each had five kills in the frame, while Swatek recorded eight digs. The Cougars posted a .444 attack percentage in the game, and had just one attacking error, while freshman setter Tristan Racich notched all three of her assists in the set.
Azusa Pacific got off to a bumpy start in the final set, notching three errors in the first six points to open in a 4-2 hole. Dominican took advantage of the mistakes, and extended its lead to 12-8 following a pair of attack errors from the Cougars, who posted five in the set.
After trailing 16-10 Azusa Pacific scored five of the next six points, thanks to Hayley Beetstra’s spark off the bench. The sophomore hitter had three of her four kills in the deciding game, including two in a rally that put the Cougars within striking distance. Azusa Pacific tied the set at 18-18 on Breezy Funk’s second of two aces, and grabbed a 22-20 edge on Swatek’s lone ace of the night.
Dominican scored the next two points to knot it at 22-22, but the Cougars closed with kills from Christy Cain and Landers, clinching the match on a dual block from Cain and Reinke.
Funk added 15 digs and two assists, while Landers finished with 16 digs to go along with her match-high 20 kills. Sophomore Cori Esparza tallied nine digs in the win.
On Friday Azusa Pacific plays Holy Names in its final home match of the season, marking the final home games for Burns, Funk, and Nicole Sepulveda.
“Friday is going to be a very weird experience. I’ve grown up in this gym, with these girls, and with this team. It’s been such a huge part of my life and I couldn’t be happier with the season and the girls that I’ve played with,” said Burns, who ranks 10th on the all-time aces list with 118.
The Cougars will close the regular season with a match at Biola on Tuesday before facing California Baptist in the National Christian College Athletics Association West Regional on Nov. 15. Azusa Pacific is 0-2 against the Lancers this season, and had its eight-match winning streak snapped last Saturday by CBU.