San Diego, Calif. -- Calm, cool and collected. It’s a phrase that has applied to Azusa Pacific all season long and absolutely nothing changed on the first day of competition at the NAIA Tournament Wednesday afternoon at Golden Gymnasium in San Diego, Calif.
Led by a spirited attack that was deadly and consistent from the outset of the match, the Cougars swept Indiana Southeast, 3-0, to move to 1-0 in Pool A. Azusa Pacific hit a blistering .392 in beating the Grenadiers 30-16, 30-15, 30-27 to improve to 25-9 on the season.
It is the first national tournament victory for the Cougars in exactly 5 years. Azusa Pacific beat Houghton (N.Y.) on Nov. 30, 2000.
Today it was a quick start that quickly removed any would be nerves as the Cougars jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back. Azusa Pacific’s 4 big hitters Jenny Brickner, Chelsea Morgan, Colleen Walker and Jessica DeJager combined for 57 kills with just 11 hitter errors amongst them.
“I wasn’t sure coming in with 8 freshmen and our first trip together to nationals. You wonder if nerves are going to be there but right from the start we were really composed,” said Brickner who had 11 kills and 4 digs.
The steady approach of the team has been a strength of the team all season long however the stage is a bigger at the tournament. But there was no wavering from their normal response to the situation.
“To be honest I thought our girls would come out with a few nerves but everything we worked on all year paid off,” said head coach Chris Keife who earned his first career tournament win at the helm of Azusa Pacific. “We really executed right from the beginning and that shows a lot of class from our girls.”
Keife, the 2005 GSAC Coach of the Year, did make an alteration beforehand starting Brianne Huff and Laura Stiles. “We tweaked our line-up a little bit and I really liked the rhythm we had out there.” he said.
The Cougars were effective defensively limiting Indiana Southeast to a pedestrian .112 hitting percentage with Brickner and Morgan anchoring the defense up front.
“Even though we had only 3 blocks they did their job and that’s probably one of their best blocking games of the season. It’s not just about blocking but setting up our whole defense and we were able to dig and pretty much take them completely out of their offense,” said Keife.
The Cougars had 65 digs in the match including 13 from Alison Pattison and 12 from Brittany Brown.
Tomorrow the Cougars play twice as they face both seeded teams in their pool. They face third-seeded Madonna at 1:30 p.m.before taking on the sixth seed National American at 8:15 p.m.
“We are just going to focus in on one game at a time one day at a time. If we play our game we should do well,” Keife added.