AZUSA, Calif. -- While most teams have simply folded at the mention of the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked Fresno Pacific tonight they played an opponent game for the challenge.
In the end, however, No. 15-ranked Azusa Pacific (19-6, 10-5) could not quite pull out either of the first 2 games to change the dynamic of the match and fell to the Sunbirds, 3-0. The Cougars had a chance to snare momentum but the experience of Fresno Pacific (25-0, 15-0) played a key role in helping it to the 30-26, 31-29, 30-19 win.
Neither team had a good night hitting the ball as the Sunbirds hit .221 to the Cougars .132. Jenny Brickner led Azusa Pacific with 12 kills while Jessica DeJager had 10.
The Cougars came out charged up and fought from the first serve. The match opened with Azusa Pacific moving in front 7-4 on a kill by Megan Burch. The Sunbirds rallied to tie the game at 10 and then quickly built a head of steam. With the score tied at 13, Fresno Pacific’s Lorena Zuleta recorded a kill that began a run of 8 consecutive points.
With a commanding 21-13 lead, the Sunbirds tried to keep Cougars at bay for the remainder of the game but were not successful. Trailing 26-19, Chelsea Morgan put a ball away that began a comeback that got them within 3 points at 27-24. However, 2 of Thais Julio’s match high 18 kills helped Fresno Pacific close it out.
The Cougars came maddeningly close to taking the second game. Fresno Pacific jumped out to a 9-5 lead with help from its defense that recorded a pair of blocks. Brickner and Morgan then kept their squad close by putting the ball away twice apiece. The Sunbirds then began to self destruct committing 5 attack errors in a span of 7 points helping the Cougars to an 18-17 lead forcing a timeout.
The lead expanded to 24-20 on a kill by DeJager before an 8-3 run by Fresno Pacific changed the complexion of the game. An Azusa Pacific timeout temporarily stemmed the tide but with the score tied at 29, Julio again finished the game with a kill and a block.
Meanwhile, the third game had Fresno Pacific in control from the outset. It raced to a 6-1 lead and went on to post a 30-19 win to finish the match and keep its record unblemished.
“Fresno played well,” said head coach Chris Keife. “This match can help us learn from our mistakes. They are an experienced team and it showed. I thought it was a fun match to watch.”
The loss stopped the Cougars winning streak at 6. They next will travel to The Master’s and take on the Mustangs on Friday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.