Entering the game with a perfect 5-0 record, the Cougars endured a 3-0 set sweep against their biggest rivals Wednesday night.
Throughout their first five games of the season, Azusa Pacific’s volleyball team had not lost a single game. With that, they had only lost a total of three sets during that span, and none of them had the Cougars losing by a deficit worse than 25-20. Players such as Katrina Radisic, who was named the PacWest Player of the Week this past Monday, and Annaka Jorgenson are already having career-best seasons.
Sovereignty is the only word that can describe the 2021 season so far for this squad. However, the Cougars had a reality check on Wednesday, as they suffered their first loss of the season against Biola on the Eagles’ home court.
Despite a 25-23 loss in the first set, there was no reason to worry as APU had already been down by a set twice this season — 1-0 deficit versus Life Pacific and 2-1 deficit versus Concordia Irvine — and still found a way to win those games. However, a 25-17 loss in the second set was a cause for concern, as the team had yet to experience a 2-0 hole. The response proved to be dispiriting, as the third set ended in another 25-17 loss.
“Today was the first game when it was apparent that we have had only five weeks together as a group,” said head coach Chris Keife. “I don’t want me saying that to discredit Biola. They were clearly the better team tonight, and they deserved to win this game. But we’re a team that does not have a lot of time together, and it showed tonight.”
Although there were a few impressive runs throughout the game for APU, including a comeback effort in the first set when they turned a 21-15 deficit to a tight 23-22 affair, the story of the game was a combination of the Cougars offensive struggles and the Eagles aggressiveness on the attack and from their service line.
APU’s hitting percentage was just a .106 (27-for-85), which was the lowest percentage they have experienced this season. Biola finished the game with a .303 (41-for-89) hitting percentage, which was easily their highest percentage of their young season, as their previous high was a .205 in a loss against Point Loma.
From the service line, Biola finished the game with 14 serving errors compared to the Cougars’ three. While that statistic may create the illusion that APU was the better service team, the Eagles led in the ace statistic by a 10-2 difference. These two statistics prove the overarching theme of the game — that Biola was the more aggressive team throughout.
“They just did the little things to carry an advantage against us the whole time. Their approach and gameplan were aggressive, and we weren’t able to match that,” Keife said. “There’s a lot of takeaways from this finish, and matching our opponent’s energy level is certainly one of the more important ones for us.”
Wednesday’s defeat was the Cougars’ first three-set sweep loss since a 2019 game against Point Loma, who won the PacWest title that year. Although obtaining a loss instead of a win is never perceived as a positive, Keife believes that a result like this is a necessary step towards improving as a team. From here on it, it’s simply about how the team responds.
“It’s not a feeling of discouragement from myself or the girls right now. There’s a lot that we need to continue learning throughout the season, and this game will allow us to learn about answering to adversity. And from a technical standpoint, we’re gonna look through some film and use what we learn from that session to our advantage further along in the season. We’ll grow from this,” said Keife.
APU will have the remainder of the week off as their next game will be another away game; this time against Concordia Irvine on April 6. The Cougars played CUI in mid-March, where they secured the hard-fought five-set victory. Once again, the game will be available on Cougars All-Access as fans are still not allowed to attend games.