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AZUSA, Calif.-- For the first time since 1991 the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team swept Fresno Pacific, defeating the No. 12-ranked Sunbirds in three sets (25-18, 25-20, 25-23) on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars avenged a disappointing result from 2012 after the young squad went up 2-0 on Fresno Pacific before letting a two-set lead slip through its fingers in five. Today Azusa Pacific was determined to not let history repeat itself.
“It just shows that our girls are working hard in practice. Our youth is getting older and we’re maturing. We were here in the same situation last season and I think the girls knew that, remembered that feeling and didn’t want it to happen again. Last year we thought it was going to be an easy road in the third set. But Fresno Pacific turned it around and did a great job in sets three, four and five to take the win. During today’s match I told the girls to rely on themselves and their team to finish it. It’s on them to learn how to finish and today they did a great job,” said head coach Chris Keife, who now owns two of the program’s 10 all-time wins in the series after the Cougars ended a 41-match losing streak to the Sunbirds (5-3, 1-1) in 2011.
Sophomore outside hitter Mattie Shelford tallied a match-high 12 kills in the team’s first home sweep over the Sunbirds since 1983, doing so on just 19 attacks (.526). Over the past four matches she’s averaged over 10 kills while returning from an injury.
“It was a big win. There was a lot of cheering and dancing in the locker room. It was a fun celebration because we knew that our hard work paid off. The setters were great. Our location and serving were on point. Everyone did their part today. It felt really good. We prepared a lot and I felt like we more ready this year, mentally and physically. We didn’t even think about last season and it paid off for us. We are a new team, they’re a new team, and that’s the approach we took,” said Shelford.
The Cougars had four players with 10+ kills in another balanced effort, getting 11 kills from Sophomore middle blocker Ashley Vander Tuig in her first match of the season. Vander Tuig had a dominating .579 attack percentage in the victory.
“Mattie’s been coming along the past two weeks and really played well again today. Getting Ashley back helps us a lot too. It gives us an another option offensively. We’ve been working hard to be a balanced team and today we were. When we play that way it makes us difficult to defend,” said Keife.
Azusa Pacific posted a .296 attack percentage on the day, while holding FPU to a .185 clip as Tristan Racich and Jaden Louie again teamed up for another strong performance with 38 combined assists. Alicia Utke registered a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs, and Christy Cain notched 10 kills and two block assists.
Joy Reinke had a match-high 18 digs to go with her five kills and an assist, while Ashley Swatek had a strong day with 16 digs and seven assists to help the Cougars limit the PacWest kills leader, Rupia Inck, to eight kills on 30 swings.
The Cougars jumped out to an early 11-5 lead in the third set before the Sunbirds stormed back with a 9-1 run to take a 14-12 advantage. Azusa Pacific, however, put the brakes on FPU’s comeback and grabbed a 22-19 edge on a Cain kill. The Cougars eventually pulled ahead 24-22, and following an Inck kill, sealed the victory on a Vander Tuig smash.
Azusa Pacific controlled the opening set 25-18, recording a .452 attack percentage and taking a 1-0 lead on a Shelford kill. In the second set the Sunbirds fought off three set-points before the Cougars went ahead 2-0 for the second straight time against FPU in the Felix Event Center.
Emily Ingalls notched a pair of crucial aces in the final set, and chipped in with an assist. Azusa Pacific will return to action next Thursday when it hosts Holy Names at 7 p.m.