2009 Volleyball Schedule Highlighted by TV Matches and Nationally Ranked Opponents

2009 Volleyball Schedule Highlighted by TV Matches and Nationally Ranked Opponents

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Two traditionally nationally-ranked opponents and nine television matches highlight the Northern Arizona volleyball schedule for 2009, which also includes the annual Fiesta Bowl Tournament in Flagstaff on Sept. 11-12.

Craig Choate returns for his second year as head coach of the program after leading last year’s team to its best record in seven years. Choate has put together a tougher early season schedule than the one that saw the Lumberjacks go 8-1 to begin last season, but believes the team will be better for it.

“The schedule is different this year in a few ways,” said Choate, “but most notably it’s that every team but one ended last season with a higher ranking in the RPI than we did. Our toughness in the schedule has increased three or four-fold.”

The NAU TV Services Department is once again televising a majority of the volleyball matches. All nine of the broadcasts will be available on Dish Network 9411 (Universityhouse), and additional stations such as Fox College Sports or FSN Arizona will be announced at a later date. All three of NAU’s Fiesta Bowl Tournament matches will be televised, along with six of the eight home Big Sky Conference contests.

“I hadn’t been on TV before I came here, and it’s fabulous for us,” said Choate. “I can’t tell you how many people told us they watched matches last year, and it helps us get out there in the recruiting world. I think it does nothing but good for the program and for NAU to get us out there.”

NAU begins the season at the Boise State Bronco Invitational where the Lumberjacks will face Cal State Northridge and Tulsa along with host Boise State. “I have a pretty good rivalry with the Northridge coach Jeff Stork who was a gold medal setter in the ’88 Olympics,” says Choate. “He and I have faced each other three times in the past and they’ve all gone to five sets so that’s kind of fun.”

The Lumberjacks will then head to Malibu to take on Pepperdine as part of the USC Tournament. Over the following two days they will also face Florida Gulf Coast and USC in Los Angeles.

The USC Trojans were ranked 13th nationally in the final poll from last year, while Pepperdine was ranked during the season and was the third team receiving votes in the final poll.

“Of course, USC will start the season as a ranked team,” said Choate, “and Pepperdine will probably start the season as a ranked team. I think it has been quite a few years since this program has played any ranked teams. It’s going to be a lot harder to bring home tournament championships than it was last year. I wanted to play those teams because we have such a young team, and I want them to see what the elite looks like so they know what it is we’re trying to become. If they never see it, they don’t have an idea of what we’re striving for.”

NAU will host the 17th annual Fiesta Bowl Tournament on its home court in September, and will be looking to defend its title after going a perfect 3-0 last year.

“The Fiesta Bowl was fabulous last year,” said Choate. “They treated us better than I’ve ever been treated at a tournament. They really did a nice job and I was very impressed. The caliber of the teams participating this year will make it a tougher tournament than last year.”

The Big Sky slate begins for the Lumberjacks on Sept. 17 and 19 with Idaho State and Weber State coming to Flagstaff. The schedule is home-heavy early on with five of the first eight in NAU’s Rolle Activity Center, while five of the final eight league matches will be on the road including the last three straight.

The Big Sky Tournament will have only four berths this year, down from six in previous years, making it tougher for teams to advance to the postseason. “We’re a young team and it will be a challenge to earn a spot at the tournament,” said Choate, “but it’s always our goal to do that.”