COSTA MESA, Calif. - Vanguard took a break from conference play to revisit its old foe, Azusa Pacific, on Thursday evening. The Cougars recently left the Golden State Athletic Conference to join the NCAA at the Division II level. The 2012 Lions took advantage of a rare opportunity for redemption and were able to accomplish a feat that many before them never experienced, defeating the former GSAC powerhouse 3-1 (22-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23) in The Pit.
"I think that our team has finally gotten the confidence that we need to win," Head Coach Eryn Leja said. "Our immaturity sometimes still emerges, like in the first set when we had a big lead and lost it, but now I think we are beginning to understand how to make the right adjustments within our games to close. Even though this wasn't a conference match, this was still very important for us. I don't remember the last time that Vanguard has beaten APU, at home or away. Clearly, JD, Ashli and Kelly had huge games for us tonight, but our block was absolutely insane."
The Lions came out hot, using a solo block from senior Candace Cedarstrom (Ladera Ranch, Calif.) to take a 5-4 lead early. Freshman Sarah McKinny (Santa Barbara, Calif.) picked up a stuff of her own two plays later and back-to-back dual roofs from the front row combo of Cedarstrom and McKinny gave VU a 9-4 advantage in the opening set. The Pride continued to build momentum, grabbing a 13-7 lead which incited an APU timeout. The TO did not immediately phase Vanguard, who went up 17-10 before APU was able to make run of its own, narrowing the margin to 18-16. The Cougars' mounting intensity prompted a timeout from VU, but the Blue and Gold could not recover, surrendering the first set 25-22.
The second frame featured less large swings, remaining tight in the early points. Another solo block from Cedarstrom broke the back and forth, giving the Lions a three-point lead at 16-13. APU responded to secure three straight points, evening the match at 16-all. Vanguard put down some good balls and used an APU error to its advantage to hold a slight edge at 22-19 but APU continued to play well under pressure, tying the set at 23-23. This time, however, the Lions' lone senior Cedarstrom had other ideas. She smashed an overpass to put her squad up 24-23 and her sophomore teammate Kelly Heenan (Costa Mesa, Calif.) followed suit, acing the Cougars to secure the 25-23 victory.
Both teams came out with a sense of urgency in the third, each looking to take command in the contest. Vanguard's Kendall Haldi (Fallbrook, Calif.) absolutely put the hurt on a ball late in the frame, a kill that served as the catalyst for a dominant offensive run which featured a pair of smashes from sophomore Jessica Neves (Mission Viejo, Calif.). The Cougars could not find an answer for the fired up Lions as Vanguard closed the set 25-20 to take a 2-1 lead in the competition.
Cedarstrom and McKinny put up a gigantic block in the fourth, refusing to let APU's attack send the ball on to the Lions' side of the net. At 8-5, APU signaled for a timeout, but the block party did not cease, as Haldi took to the front row with McKinny. Haldi brought an offensive spark and Vanguard soon found itself holding a 15-10 edge. VU held its five-point lead until Cedarstrom returned to the game and made a virtual wall with freshman Rachael Barker (Torrance, Calif.) and McKinny. The trio promptly stuffed an APU attempt to bring the score to 19-13. The Cougars rallied to pull within one at 20-19 and tied it up at 20-all on the next point, but a kill from sophomore Ashli Bellinger (Chandler, Ariz.) and another kill and solo block from Haldi tipped the scale in favor of the Pride at 22-20. Yet again, the determined Cougars rallied to even the score, trying to find an opening to garner the lead, but Neves would have none of it as she got her chance and slammed one into the hardwood to put Vanguard back in the lead at 24-23. It was no surprise that the block won it for the Lions, as Haldi roofed her second solo to give VU the big 25-23 four-set win.
The Lions came up with a season-high 15 blocks in the match. Cedarstrom, Haldi and McKinny logged three, two and one solo blocks, respectively. McKinny played a role in six block assists, while Cedarstrom and Haldi stuffed five and four.
Heenan and Bellinger ran the defense, boasting 25 and 21 digs on the evening. Sophomore Carly Maxwell (Bakersfield, Calif.) and Neves also recorded 10 and seven digs while junior Grace Konstanzer (Irvine, Calif.) chipped in six for VU.
Neves led the Pride with 14 kills and 25 assists. Maxwell dished out 23 assists of her own and Bellinger, Cedarstrom and Haldi registered 11, nine and nine putdowns for the Lions' offense.
Heenan and Konstanzer dealt two service aces apiece in the win.
The Blue and Gold improve to 12-9 on the season. Vanguard is on a roll, having defeated No. 10 Westmont 3-1 in its last contest.
Azusa Pacific falls to 11-5 with the loss.
Vanguard will host GSAC newcomer Arizona Christian on Saturday, October 6th at 7:00pm for the first time since ACU's induction into the conference.