This article originally appeared in ZU News.
The volleyball team has struggled to close out games this season. That changed Wednesday night when the Cougars came back from a first set loss to defeat Point Loma Nazarene University for the first time in three years, snapping a seven game losing streak to the Sea Lions.
“We played well. We’ve been practicing a lot the last two weeks focusing on our side of the net — more the intangibles, not necessarily even volleyball, just more camaraderie and better emotions on the court. The girls did a very nice job today,” head coach Chris Keife said.
The Cougars dropped the first set 23-25, but came back to win the next three 25-16, 25-23 and 25-16. Keife acknowledged the struggles the team has had finishing sets as well as strategies for future improvement.
“With five freshmen and one sophomore on the court, we’re still learning,” Keife said, “That’s one of the things we just need to get better at: focusing in on the moments we need to make a play and finish the set off. We need to do that. It’s still a work in progress.”
The Cougars were led by freshmen Madison Ogas and Julianne Miller, netting 13 and 11 kills, respectively. Sophomores Alyssa Tavera and Danika Young led the team with 22 and 18 assists, and freshman Bailey Hennington had the most digs with 27. Miller also led the team with two solo blocks.
“I think I struggled in the beginning, but it’s a learning process, and I came out later in the game. We came out with what we wanted, which was unity, togetherness and teamwork,” Miller said.
Miller currently leads the Cougars this season with 150 kills and 11 solo blocks. She also noted the importance of a comeback from the first set and closing out games.
“We don’t want to be down a set like that, but it gives us the drive to push harder the next game,” Miller said. “We’re learning from our past games and our practices, from each other. We’re playing with more heart now.”
Ogas has also been a team leader with the third most kills, 131, and the second most digs and aces, 160 and 14, respectively.
“I feel like I was very consistent for my team and that’s something I’ve been working on getting better at,” Ogas said. “I feel like I’ve come a long way from the first few games when my team couldn’t rely on me, but now they can.”
Ogas noted the Cougars’ struggles in keeping leads and closing games. Last week, the team led Concordia by two sets, only to lose the last three. APU also had a 22-18 lead over Chaminade last week, but they couldn’t hold it and were forced to a set point. The same story happened against Hawaii Hilo when the Cougars dropped a set after leading 24-22.
“We have a hard time keeping the lead, but tonight we kept our lead and we beat them,” Ogas said. “Our team is becoming more aware of how important it is to finish games. We play with everything we have to finish out the game.”
After a loss to Dixie State on Oct. 8, the Cougars are now 7-10 overall and 3-5 in PacWest conference play. They split their first home stand 2-2 and will face another game on the road before they return home.
“We’re a good team and have good players,” Keife said. “They’ve got to know that and have the confidence at every point. We keep getting better.”
The young volleyball team is growing better together as the freshmen majority of the team get experience with every game.
“I think we’ve come a long way. I think we’re bringing what we learn in practice into games pretty well,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to coming out to that same passion we had in the fourth set, and bringing it in the beginning.”
The Cougars will play their next game at Cal Baptist on Wednesday, Oct. 12.