Senior Christy Cain’s final season with Azusa Pacific gets a second wind after receiving an at-large berth in the NCCAA national championship tournament.
Courtesy: Holly Magnuson

The women’s volleyball team accepted an at-large bid to the NCCAA national championship tournament, which will begin Thursday, Dec. 5 in Kissimmee, Fla.

The Cougars’ chance to continue their journey to the national championships was in question after their loss to Point Loma Friday, Nov. 22. Their season’s fate lay in the hands of a voting consensus. Sunday, head coach Chris Keife relayed the news to the team that players would be travelling to Florida as the No. 3 seed.

Keife believes the Cougars should gain confidence from their recent loss to Point Loma.

“Even though we lost, we played a very good Point Loma team on the road with a very good crowd going against us,” Keife said. “On top of that, there were some rough calls, so I thought we had everything stacked against us, and it still went to five games.”

There is a chance the Cougars will face Point Loma once more in the NCCAA national championship tournament, and Keife is confident that the Cougars are capable of claiming a victory on a neutral court. Keife said there are no drastic offensive or defensive refinements needed, but there are always small improvements to be made.

“I am mostly excited that the seniors get the opportunity to compete for a national championship,” said Keife.

Senior middle blocker Christy Cain will spend her final days as a collegiate-level volleyball player competing in the national championship tournament. She believes in the strength of her team and its ability to beat tough opposition. Cain is prepared to lead the Cougars to a potential national championship title and is excited to see a season’s worth of hard work come together. However, she does not think the road to the title will be easy.

“The teams there now are very good teams,” Cain said. “There are teams that we have played in the NAIA, and all are very competitive and very good, so I think if we play as well as we have shown at times we can play, then we have a good chance of winning the championships.”

Sophomore outside hitter Mattie Shelford is looking forward to the tournament because the team will experience something new. The Cougars will be in an unfamiliar environment and may face off against teams they have not played against before.

“It is almost like getting a fresh start, but it’s also a fun way to end our season,” said Shelford.

Shelford also reinforced Cain’s confidence in the team’s abilities while stressing the importance of not underestimating opponents. Shelford emphasized how a strong focus will be necessary for the Cougars to leave Florida as national champions.

“I am confident that we could win but not confident that we will win,” said Shelford. “We are still going to have to work hard and put our best effort forward because we know their best effort is going to be coming.”

The Cougars left Tuesday, Dec. 3, for Kissimmee, Fla., where they will compete against five teams in pool play. If they are one of the top two teams in their pool, they will advance to the semifinal round of single-elimination bracket play. They begin their first match on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 10 a.m. EST against McMurray and their second match at 2 p.m. EST against Bethel.