DAY 7 (Aug. 7): Volleyball Milestones Usher In New Era
Last year Azusa Pacific volleyball head coach Chris Keife recorded his 200th win en route to a 31-8 season and an NAIA tournament appearance, further cementing the ninth-year coach as the winningest coach in program history.
His program’s consistency in his near-decade at the helm is unmatched in school history, posting 20 or more wins in eight consecutive seasons to obliterate the program’s previous record of three straight 20-win campaigns. In 2011 the Cougars hit the 30-win plateau for just the fourth time in school history and first since 1991, putting together a 31-8 campaign after streaking to a program-record 12-0 start while setting the program’s all-time regular-season wins record (28). He needed just eight years to reach his 200th win at Azusa Pacific, and the Cougars posted a program-best runner-up finish in their final year of competition in the Golden State Athletic Conference (the superpower conference of the NAIA).
“Milestones are never something I spend time thinking about, but it’s nice to see a variety of players achieve great milestones,” Keife said. “For me, the most rewarding thing is being able to be a part of athletes’ lives, and to be able to have great people around you. Milestones tend to be a win-win for everybody, not just for the individuals who set records but also for the way those lead to team records.”
Needless to say Keife has racked up about just about as many records and milestones as anyone could have in that amount of time. Now he is tasked with facing a new challenge: guiding the Cougars from the ranks of the NAIA’s elite into the competitive Pacific West Conference , and doing so the year after graduating a senior class that was the only set of seniors in program history to reach four consecutive national tournaments. Last year’s senior class posted a four-year record of 113-36 (.758 winning percentage), including an impressive 25-6 mark in five-set matches, which included all five of Azusa Pacific’s national-tournament wins in 2010 and 2011.
Among those moving on from their Cougar volleyball careers are Robin Portela, the program’s all-time digs leader, Whittany Radcliffe, a two-time All-GSAC performer who finished fourth on the career kills list (most of any three-year player), and Raechel Jones, who is only the second player in program history to rank in the career top-10 in assists, aces, and digs. The Cougars also graduated one of the program’s best all-around players in Amy Alkazin, who ranked in the program’s career top-25 in every major statistical category other than assists (including third in blocks and eighth in kills).
As Azusa Pacific volleyball transitions into NCAA Div. II competition, it will do so with a young group which features seven newcomers.
When asked to describe the foundation his program has used to build its success, Keife responded: “To strive for excellence day in and day out; it’s not an easy thing to do, but it definitely pays dividends. I tell the team that I want them to enjoy the journey. Enjoy the moments that are tough, and the moments that are exciting. Enjoy the trips, the adventures, and the relationships they’ll share during their career here.”
The transition of Cougar volleyball into the NCAA Div. II era kicks off August 31 at Point Loma’s Seaside Invitational, where Azusa Pacific takes on four Div. II opponents in non-conference tournament action. The PacWest portion of the 2012 schedule opens with five consecutive home matches, including the Sept. 11 home opener against California Baptist.