RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- With tonight’s regular season finale against No. 3-ranked California Baptist, No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific had an opportunity to see where it measured up against the defending national champions.
When the 2 teams met in the first round of GSAC play it was the Lancers that dominated in a 3-0 win. Tonight the Cougars made things considerably more interesting but, in the end, fell 30-24, 30-24, 28-30, 30-22.
California Baptist was led by a sensational performance by Vera Willis who recorded 28 kills, 10 digs and 10 blocks. Willis turned up her game at a critical juncture in a close fourth game with a series of kills that opened up a lead the Lancers would not relinquish.
Azusa Pacific was paced by Colleen Walker who had 20 kills and 7 digs.
“We never got into a good rhythm,” Walker said. “Tonight it was about what we were doing and the mistakes that we were making. We started to get it but then things like serving errors would hurt us.”
The Cougars were plagued with 13 serving errors in all and hit .193 for the match. In contrast, the Lancers hit .256 and held Azusa Pacific in check with 17 blocks.
After dropping the first 2 games, Azusa Pacific came back and gutted out a close third game. Walker and Jenny Brickner fueled the Cougars charge. As the Lancers (25-3, 17-2) narrowed the gap to 29-28, Azusa Pacific’s Megan Burch responded with a kill to force another game.
However, Willis and Co. were just too strong as they seized control of the fourth game breaking a 12-12 tie by scoring 8 of the next 10 points. Willis had 11 of her 28 kills in the final game.
“I think seeing a girl like that just got our girls thinking they had to do too much,” said head coach Chris Keife. “Cal Baptist played well and took us out of our rhythm. Our youngsters struggled for the first couple of games but then started fighting back. You have to give them credit.”
Chelsea Morgan had 15 kills for the Cougars while Brickner added 13.
The focus now shifts to the regional playoffs were the Cougars (23-7, 14-6) will host a first round match next Tuesday night. Tonight’s contest was quick possibly a preview of a Region II semifinal match between the same teams.
Despite the loss, the Cougars end the regular season with their most wins since 2001 when they went 23-10. The team's .767 winning percentage is it's highest since the 1991 team went 34-8.
“We’re confident but we have things we have to tune-up,” Walker said. “Overall we want to keep working on improving and that is all we are focused on. We have things to work on tomorrow at practice to get ready for whoever we end up playing on Tuesday.”