AZUSA, Calif.-- After an otherwise lifeless start, the Azusa Pacific women’s volleyball team held on for a narrow 3-1 victory over La Sierra in a non-conference match on Tuesday night. The Cougars dropped the opening set before recording three consecutive wins, two by just two points, to improve to 16-7 headed into the team’s brutal home stretch in conference play.
“It was a sloppy match all around, but when we needed points we got points. Our girls pulled it out and kudos to them because it was a struggle at times. We’ll take in stride and try to get better from it,” said head coach Chris Keife. “We have a really tough road ahead, beginning with Fresno Pacific on Friday and continuing against the No. 4 team in the country in BYU-Hawaii. It was good for us to get a win going into this part of our schedule.”
Senior defensive specialist Emily Ingalls helped close out the Golden Eagles (19-8), subbing in late in the fourth set with the Cougars trailing 22-20 to lead Azusa Pacific to four consecutive points behind her serve. The Redlands East Valley High School graduate assisted on two Mattie Shelford kills during the stretch, and served the Cougars to a 24-22 lead before a La Sierra handling error clinched Azusa Pacific’s four-set win.
“Emily was really key for us tonight. In the fourth set she was a great spark plug. We were down and needed a good serve, and set and she came in and did a really nice job in both areas. It was great to have her come off the bench and deliver in a really crucial moment,” said Keife.
Azusa Pacific overcame a flat opening set in which the Cougars gave up a 5-0 run to close the game, allowing La Sierra to fight off three set points for a 26-24 win. The Cougars then bounced back for a convincing 25-17 second set win, and edged out the Golden Eagles in a back-and-forth 31-29 third set victory. Three of the four sets were decided by two points, with two going past the 25-point threshold.
“It was a tough start. We’ve been in that situation before, where we couldn’t get that last point, so I told the coaches we wouldn’t call a timeout. We wanted the players to figure it out on the court and learn and mature out there. It was hard to do, but we had opportunities to finish that set and didn’t, and I think it will be something that we will learn from. I was happy in the final set that we were able to go out there and comeback down the stretch,” said Keife.
Jaden Louie coordinated a Cougar attack that saw three players finish with double-digit kills, dishing out 30 assists, while Tristan Racich added 13 assists and nine digs. Freshman middle blocker Ashley Midland turned in an impressive performance as the rookie recorded 10 kills on 20 swings, assisted on three blocks, and registered an assist in the win.
Shelford paced Azusa Pacific with 13 kills, nearly tabbing a double-double with nine assists, while Alicia Utke posted a double-double with 12 kills and 10 digs. Joy Reinke and Ashley Swatek keyed the Cougar defense, notching 21 and 22 digs respectively, and senior middle blocker Christy Cain helped the team at the net, assisting on eight of the Cougars’ 11 blocks.
Azusa Pacific will now travel to Fresno Pacific for a Friday night tilt against the Sunbirds, before hosting four consecutive matches against the Pacific West’s four Hawaiian teams beginning with a contest against No. 4 BYU-Hawaii (NCAA Division II) on Thursday night.