This article was originally published in ZU News.
The Azusa Pacific volleyball team improved to 20-5 on the season with a 3-0 set victory over Hawai’i Hilo. The Cougars won the three sets by a score of 25-14, 25-17, and 25-19.
This was APU’s final home game of the season. They finished the season with a 9-1 record at home, a team best effort since 2013. Junior outside hitter Madison Ogas noted the atmosphere that playing at home provides.
“It’s great to play at home, especially with the new court. The crowd really pulled through and they’ve always been there for us,” Ogas said. “It was a really fun year playing at home.”
The team got a new court at the beginning of this season. They only use it for games, not in practice. Junior outside hitter Natalie Klapp said she enjoyed the new court too.
“Home games are our favorite games to play because of the court. It’s so nice and easy on the body,” Klapp said. “The atmosphere is great. We’ve had more fans here than any other season.”
Klapp finished fourth on the team in kills on the night with six and second on the team in digs with 10.
APU and Hilo traded points back and forth in the first set until the score was 12-11. From there, the Cougars’ offense went on the attack and they won 13 of the last 16 points to take the set 25-14. Head coach Chris Keife said that Hilo exploited the Cougars’ weaknesses.
“Hilo did a nice job of exploiting some of the things that we need to work on, a few of our weaknesses. We closed that up and started making some plays and executed better defensively,” Keife said. “Offensively, we did a nice job of keeping the ball in play and being aggressive with our attacks. We made good decisions with the plays given us.”
Ogas said that the team was playing too soft at first, but they recognized what they had to do.
“I think we realized that we’re a lot better than this team and we were kind of playing with them at first, but then we kicked it into gear,” Ogas said.
The Cougars controlled the second set easily, with a five point lead for most of the set.
“It’s hard playing against teams that you know you’re better than. It’s easy to play down to their level,” Klapp said. “In the second game we focused on playing with more energy and more grit.”
Hilo started the third set with a lead and kept it for over half of the set, leading by as much as four points. However, APU was able to come back and tie it at 16-16, before shutting Hilo down to win the final set, 25-19.
“We thought it was close to being over, but then we realized that we had to finish the game out. We finished strong,” Ogas said.
Ogas tied for first on the night in kills with 13 and finished third in digs with six. APU was also led by sophomore middle blocker Sara Wagenveld who also had 13 kills and sophomore middle blocker Julianne Miller who had 12 kills. Miller notched the only solo block of the night. Junior setter Kaylen Higa led the team with 17 assists and sophomore libero Bailey Hennington finished with 18 digs.
“I feel our girls are doing pretty mature things for a young team. Even with our youth out on the court, our girls are doing a nice job of taking care of business when we need to, beating the teams that we need to take care of,” Keife said. “It’s exciting not just for this year, to finish strong, but also for the future of APU.”
Keife focused on the idea of finishing strong. Currently APU has a one game lead on Biola, who is 20-6 on the season. The Cougars are second in the PacWest conference only to Cal Baptist, who are 25-0 and ranked second nationally in NCAA Division II.
“Every team that we’re playing from here on out, we need to make sure that we show up and play well,” Keife said.
APU sits in fifth place in the western region in D-II. The top eight teams from the region will make the postseason; the Cougars will find out if they make the postseason on Nov. 20. Before that, they have three more games, all on the road.
Ogas said that she is not worried about Biola catching up in the last few games.
“I think we’re going to prevail on top,” Ogas said. “We know that we’re the stronger team and we can do really well.”
APU has three games left in the regular season. They will prepare to take on Dixie State in Utah on Saturday, Nov. 11.