After a back and forth match against Concordia, APU demonstrated who the champions were.
On Wednesday night, Azusa Pacific defeated Concordia, 3-2 (25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 22-25, 15-7), clenching the PacWest conference title for the second year in a row. It was a back and forth match, but ultimately, the Cougars took home the big win.
During the first set, the Cougars and the Eagles traded off points, neither team grabbing momentum. Concordia led by as many as three, but the Cougars struck back and tied the set at 19-19. The Cougars gained momentum and won the set 25-21 on a kill from sophomore Katarina Radisic.
After winning the first set, APU trailed Concordia in the beginning of the second set, but the Cougars were able to tie it up at 9-9. APU went ahead from kills by Radisic, freshman Annaka Jorgenson and senior Aliyah Morrison before Concordia called a timeout. But that timeout didn’t kill APU’s momentum. The Cougars closed out the set on a kill from senior Sara Wagenveld, claiming the second set 25-21.
The third set started out mostly the same as the Cougars and the Eagles continued trading points back and forth until it was tied 19-19, but Concordia took the biggest lead of the set by three points. Concordia continued inching up the ladder until they won the set, 25-22.
“We came out at the beginning a little complacent. We let ourselves relax. We had two sets under our belts and we let off the gas pedal a little bit,” Wagenveld said.
In order to win the match, the Cougars were going to need to play much harder, as Concordia began the fourth set even stronger. The Eagles led by as many as nine points at 12-3. The Cougars weren’t able to break through until a kill by Jorgenson started turning things around. After the kill, the Cougars inched closer and closer. The crowd was jittery and the unpredictability of the set loomed over the gym. The Cougars closed the gap all the way to 22-24 with a kill by Julianne Miller, but the Eagles took the set point.
“They were coming out strong and putting pressure on us…they had really strong defense and we weren’t capitalizing on the opportunities we had,” Wagenveld said.
This left APU and Concordia tied at two sets apiece. Both teams knew they had to go all out in the fifth set to claim the victory. The bleachers were shaking with stomping fans and shouts of encouragement echoed throughout the gym. It was anyone’s game.
Senior Bailey Henington explained that the girls knew what was at stake and made a game plan to win the final set.
“In the fifth set we… talked about it and [said] ‘We’ve got to start strong this set and get ahead and stay ahead,’” said Henington. “We talked about how we needed to stay level headed and [how] our bodies know what to do. We’ve played this game for so long, so just get it done.”
The Cougars did not deviate from their plan, as this was their chance to claim the PacWest conference title, and they did. They kicked off set five on a roll, quickly grabbing a small lead and increasing it, claiming the set 15-7 with a kill from Radisic winning the match point.
The crowd went wild as APU won the match 3-2, clinching the PacWest for the second year in a row. Head coach Chris Keife explained where this last minute drive came from.
“Our girls knew what was at stake… after set three we get another shot. After set four we get another shot, but we knew set five [was] it –– we don’t get another opportunity,” Keife said. “Our girls just stood up and [decided] we are going to finish like we would like to finish.”
It was an exciting night for the Cougars, and some key players made it all possible. Radisic had led the cougars in kills with 18, followed by Wagenveld who had 17 with a very strong .533 hitting percentage. Freshman Maggie Nielsen paced APU in assists with 33 and junior Mina Andjelkovic followed with 20. Wagenveld and Jorgenson each had two solo blocks, while senior Julianne Miller finished with four block assists. Henington led the team with 29 digs.
The Cougars final home game of the season, Senior Night, is on Friday at 6 p.m. against Fresno Pacific.