FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU volleyball team opens the 2011 season this weekend with the first of three non-conference tournaments, playing at elevation (4, 774 feet) in Orem, Utah at the Utah Valley Wolverine Invitational. NAU will open play against CSU Bakersfield on Friday at 3:30 pm Arizona time before facing Illinois State on Saturday at 9 am and closing play against host Utah Valley on Saturday at 6 pm. Live game broadcasts and statistics will be available via the Volleyball Schedule page.
"I want to see us get to be as smart and consistent as we know we can be," said head coach Craig Choate. "We hope to start off with a win against CSU Bakersfield Friday to give us some momentum going into Saturday. Illinois State and Utah Valley are both talented, winning programs so we will really have to play well to get those wins. But do I think we can go 3-0? Absolutely."
The 2011 Lumberjack squad features nine combined juniors and seniors from Choate's first two NAU recruiting classes. The Lumberjacks returns four starters (plus libero) and eight letter winners in 2011 after losing just one senior (Chelsea Cheeley) to graduation. NAU is aiming for its third season with double-digit wins in the last four years after failing to reach double digit victories in their three previous seasons.
Junior setter Kelli Dallmann returns in 2011 after earning All Big-Sky second team honors a year ago. Dallmann was second in the Big Sky with 10.00 assists per set in 2010 and was sixth in the conference with 11 double-doubles last season. Libero Anna Gott begins her junior season after leading the team and finishing fourth in the Big Sky with 4.39 Digs per Set in 2010. The Phoenix native recorded double-digit digs in 22 of 26 matches last year and was sixth in the Big Sky with 0.28 aces per set. Senior outside hitter Kobi Christensen and junior Lexi Sullivan will look to pace the attack once again for the Lumberjacks as they open 2011 play.
NAU has five freshmen who will be making their collegiate debuts this weekend. Among them is setter Kalee Kirby, who will begin her collegiate career just an hour from where she ended her high school career. Kirby's home town is South Weber, Utah and she attended Northridge high school in Layton, which is just 60 miles north of Orem and Utah Valley University. It is the closest NAU match in 2011 to any athlete's hometown.
Utah Valley University is also only four miles away from Brigham Young University (BYU), the alma mater of Choate and NAU assistant coach Chris Gorny.
CSU Bakersfield begins its second season as a full NCAA Division-I program after transitioning from the Division-II level. The Roadrunners went winless in 2010 at 0-31, including an 0-7 mark in neutral site matches. The Roadrunners hit just .137 as a team for the 2010 season while allowing an opponent hitting percentage of .301. The Lumberjacks and Roadrunners have met only once before in volleyball, a 1-1 tie in 1982 (one of only three ties in NAU program history).
Illinois State, located in Normal, Ill., went 19-14 overall and 8-10 in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2010. The Redbirds were an impressive 7-1 in neutral site matches a year ago. Illinois State has been to the NCAA tournament 12 times in program history, with its last trip coming in 2007. NAU and Illinois State have never before met in volleyball.
The host Wolverines of Utah Valley have only been an NCAA Division-I program since 2003, when they made the jump from NAIA. Utah Valley went 21-11 overall last season and finished second in the Great West Conference with a 9-3 mark. The program has gone 134-95 since moving to the NCAA Division-I level, and returns four starters and eight letter winners from 2010. NAU and Utah Valley have never before met in volleyball but will face off twice in 2011, as the squads will also play September 10 at the Air Force Invitational.