Former Big Sky Championship Volleyball Team Enters Hall of Fame on 10th Anniversary
November 20, 1999. Northern Arizona
volleyball captures its first and only Big Sky Championship sending
the Lumberjacks to the Women’s Division I NCAA Championships
in College Station, Texas. A decade later, the 1999 NAU volleyball team
remains the most successful in program history and will become the
13th team to be inducted into the NAU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It’s really a great honor anytime a team is recognized as a whole and asked to come back and celebrate that,” said former head coach Kelley McKee, the former Kelley Sliva who is married and resides in Casa Grande, Ariz., with her husband, Vince.
The 1999 NAU women’s volleyball team was not destined for greatness. It was a team that when presented with obstacles rose to the occasion and capitalized on those opportunities. It was a team picked third in the preseason conference poll and seeded fourth in the conference championships after a 10-6 finish in Big Sky play.
“We were clearly the underdogs and loved every minute of it,” said McKee, the 1999 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year. “It was one of those things we thrived on.”
The 1999 Lumberjacks fought for everything they earned that year. After opening the conference season 10-3, NAU dropped its final three conferences matches and settled for a No. 4 seed in the tournament. In order to reach the NCAA tournament, NAU would need three wins with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds receiving byes.
“I really didn’t think this was going to be our year,” said current assistant coach Megan Greene who was a sophomore middle blocker on the 1999 team. “We were a young team. We were really good the next couple of years too. It all just happened to come together that year.”
The Lumberjacks topped the No. 5 seed Montana in four sets, upset No. 2 Eastern Washington (3-1) setting up a championship match against No. 6 Cal State Northridge, a team the Lumberjacks had defeated twice in the regular season.
Cal State Northridge dominated the first set (15-3), but NAU regrouped and pulled out the five set win, a microcosm of the Lumberjacks’ determination and resiliency all season.
“They made big plays at big times,” said McKee. “It wasn’t a junior or senior-laden team with a lot of wins under their belt. They were gritty. What became obvious to me was it doesn’t matter how old you are to win. You can be young and talented and you can win. That’s what they were.”
The 1999 Lumberjacks earned what no other NAU volleyball team had prior to 1999 or since: a Big Sky title and the right to play in the NCAA Championships. NAU faced No. 23 North Carolina and fell 3-0 ending its season with a 19-10 record, the second-best win percentage (.655) and total number of wins all-time.
Even with the success on the court, the story remains the team. The 1999 Lumberjacks were a collection of individuals that gelled at the right place at the right time.
“They had an amazing ability to make adjustments in the middle of a game,” said McKee who listed a collection of idiosyncrasies that aligned into a pattern for success. “They had a really high volleyball IQ. When you have a team that has great thinkers with talented athletes that combination made it a really special group.”