Volleyball completes up-and-down season

Azusa Pacific University’s volleyball team had a challenging season full of ups and downs. The team finished with an overall record of 14-15 and 10-10 in the PacWest conference.

The Cougars began their volleyball season with four matches in Anchorage, Alaska, against nationally ranked competition. The Cougars lost all four matches but remained competitive throughout each. They flipped the script the following weekend in Seattle in the GNAC/PacWest challenge, the Cougars left victorious after winning all four of their matches.

They won their first home match, the conference opener, against California Baptist in four sets. Head coach Chris Keife referred to this match as a “great win.”

After winning against CBU, the Cougars won the next two home matches against Notre Dame De Namur and Fresno Pacific. Unfortunately, APU lost the following four games.

After this tough losing streak, the team headed to Hawaii where they won all three of the games they played. Coach Keife said, “[We were] on a streak.”

Unfortunately, shortly after, the Cougars lost four tough matches against Dixie State, Point Loma, Concordia and Dominican.

“We have had a season of ups and downs,” Keife said. “It was full of emotions. We had the opportunity to finish 1st or 2nd [in the conference] a few weeks ago, but now we are 8th. It has been a season of learning.”

There are six seniors who will graduate this year: Joy Reinke, Ashley Swatek, Kristina Kam, Jaden Louie, Mattie Shelford and Katy Crouse. Their absence will significantly affect and change the team dynamic for next year’s season.

“We are bringing in so many new girls with different skills and personalities. It’s an exciting time to have so many new faces,” Keife said. “It’s been nice to have freshmen get playing time. They are all gaining experience.”

The Cougars will enter their next season with three players starting their senior year.

These players include middle blockers Ashley Midland, Crystal Dedes and Kami Zoller.

The current seniors on the team agree: Even though the season did not go as they expected, they all grew individually and as a team.

“We had a good season overall,” senior defensive specialist Ashley Swatek said. “We had growth. We battled against teams, instead of crumbling, we joined together. Even though we didn’t succeed in wins and loses, we grew as a team and as individuals.”

Senior outside hitter Mattie Shelford earned first team All-PacWest honors. It was the third time she has earened an All-PacWest honor.

Azusa Pacific also claimed Midland onto the All-PacWest team; she earned earned an honorable mention selection and held the second highest hitting percentage (.322) in the conference.

Shelford hoped for a better outcome but understands that a great season is not always easy.

“This season was not as we anticipated,” Shelford said. “We hoped we would make it to the playoffs. We had a tough conference.”

The final game of the season was at California Baptist University on Saturday, November 21. Unfortunately, the Cougars’ loss marked the end of their season.

“We have to learn from where we were this year and bring it to [a higher level] next year,” Keife said.