ST. GEORGE, Utah-- It’s been a gauntlet of a week for the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team. The Cougars dropped their first two matches of the week against a pair of undefeated Pacific West Conference opponents (California Baptist, Point Loma) heading into a showdown against a 6-0 (10-2) Dixie State team.
And after a slow start on Saturday afternoon the Cougars rallied back from a 24-19 fourth set deficit to give Dixie State its first PacWest loss of the season with a 3-1 victory (22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 28-26). The Cougars (11-4, 4-2) overcame a first set loss before winning three straight games against the Red Storm (10-3, 6-1), the last of which saw the team fight off five set-points before clinching the first conference road win of the season.
“It’s been tough. This week was very hard. Playing those matches against CBU and Point Loma, and then traveling out here is vey difficult. I knew this week would be the hardest week for us all year so getting this win is fantastic. It’s gets us back on track and now I’m excited to have a regular week of practice and get better,” said head coach Chris Keife.
After going ahead 2-1 the Cougars seemed destined for a fifth set, trailing 24-19 in the fourth. But three Dixie State attack errors, a Christy Cain kill, and a Joy Reinke ace knotted the game at 24-24. The Red Storm got back on top following a service error, but the Cougars rallied again with kills from Alicia Utke and Hayley Beetstra to end the team’s brief two-match skid with a 28-26 match-clinching victory.
“We’ve been having teams do that to us, not necessarily to win the match, but there have been times where we’ve given up runs. So it was good for us to finish up that fourth set in that fashion,” said Keife.
Mattie Shelford continued to play well, tabbing 14 kills on 34 attempts, while Christy Cain and Lauren Edwards patrolled the middle, helping Azusa Pacific post 11 blocks. Cain finished with eight block assists and 12 kills, while Edwards tallied seven kills, four digs, and two block assists.
Three Cougar players finished with double-doubles, led by Reinke’s 12-kill, 22-dig performance. Utke recorded 12 kills and 17 digs to go with three block assists, and sophomore setter Jaden Louie notched 20 assists and 14 digs.
“I thought there were a lot of girls that played well in certain areas today. Mattie got a lot of kills, and got them when we needed them. Lauren and Christy continued to be consistent in the middle for us, and Alicia and Joy did a great job defensively,” said Keife.
Azusa Pacific out-hit the Red Storm .186 to .127, and again showed off its balance with five players posting seven or more kills, and four finishing in double figures. Tristan Racich tallied 34 assists, and notched seven digs, and Ashley Swatek totaled 19 digs and two assists.
The Cougars’ attack in the first set was erratic, finishing with match highs in kills (17) and errors (11) in a 25-22 loss. But in the second and third sets Azusa Pacific settled in, hitting .250 in the second and .294 in the third. The Cougars sided out Dixie State at an 80 percent clip in the second set and led from start to finish in each of the middle games despite allowing a 12-4 run in the third.
“With a young team it’s always tough to lose that first set on the road. But the good stuff about that first set is that we had 17 kills. I knew we had to limit our errors and I felt very confident that we’d be fine. We were dominating in set three, but they had a big run, and those are the things we need to work on,” said Keife.
The Cougars will return to action on Friday night when they take on Academy of Art in a pseudo-home match at Hope International University in Fullerton. The match is schedule for 7 p.m. On Saturday Azusa Pacific will square off with Dixie State again, this time in the Felix Event Center at 3 p.m.