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Photo by Holly Magnuson
Christy Cain finished with 12 kills to help the Cougars to a 3-0 win on Tuesday night.

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September 17, 2013
Chris Baker
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AZUSA, Calif.-- The Cougars fared well over their eight match road trip to start the season, but there’s nothing like playing at home. Tuesday night the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team kicked off its home schedule with a speedy 3-0 sweep (25-15, 25-18, 25-20) over San Diego Christian in the Felix Event Center, lifting its record to 7-2 following a balanced offensive effort and a stifling defensive performance.

Five Cougars finished with six or more kills and the Azusa Pacific defense limited the Hawks (1-8) to a .078 attack percentage, giving up just 26 kills on 103 attempts. Christy Cain and Mattie Shelford paced the team with 12 kills apiece, each hitting well over .550 on the night. Lauren Edwards, Joy Reinke, and Alicia Utke all tallied six kills in the team’s first match of a five-match home stand.

“It’s nice. Being on the road for the past two weekends, with two matches a day is a lot. We’re looking forward to getting into a rhythm and that started that tonight. Being at home and being able to focus on one match at a time is great,” said head coach Chris Keife, who collected his 250th career win last weekend.

“We were good at times and sloppy at times, but overall I thought we did a good job. There were moments in each set where we gave up a five point run, and obviously the score looks a little different if we can control those a little better. For being at home, and trying different things out there, I thought the girls responded well and I’m happy with the way they performed.”

Through the first two sets Azusa Pacific forced as many attack errors (15) as it allowed kills before the Hawks settled down in the final set with a .222 clip in the tightest game of the night. But it was the Cougars’ balance and depth that controlled the match, keeping San Diego Christian guessing all evening.

Hayley Beetstra and Ashley Midland each chipped in with three kills off the bench as Tristan Racich and Jaden Louie continued to effectively distribute the ball. Racich recorded 26 assists, predominately in the first two sets, and Louie tabbed 18 assists, mostly coming over the final two sets to help Azusa Pacific win its 25th straight match against the Hawks.

“What I like about our team, and we saw it tonight, is that a lot of girls are able to step up and perform. When someone is struggling we can pull someone off the bench and they can be just as effective as who we started. I love our depth and our balance. We don’t want one girl to carry us, we like having the ability to attack from a lot of different areas,” said Keife.

And tonight those areas came in the middle and the outside thanks to notable performances from Cain and Shelford. Cain finished with 12 kills and two errors, tallying a team-high six kills in the clinching set to finish at .556. Shelford gave the Hawks’ block fits to the tune of 12 kills on 18 swings with one error (.611), also closing strong with five third-set kills.

Utke, who’s six double-doubles lead all Cougars, failed to get to 10+ kills for just the second time this season. The junior, however, had a match-high 14 digs, which led to six Azusa Pacific kills. Reinke also finished with double-figure kills, netting 12 on the night. Senior Emily Ingalls, who played libero for Azusa Pacific, tabbed nine digs, while junior Cori Esparza chipped in with five.

Azusa Pacific will continue its home stand on Saturday against No. 12 (NCAA Division II) Fresno Pacific at 3:00 p.m. The Cougars are just 9-65 all-time against the Sunbirds, although they did post a four-set win over Fresno Pacific in 2011 in the Felix Event Center.