Photo: NAU vists the famed Air Force Chapel prior to Saturday's matches
USAFA, Colo. – After a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Utah Valley Saturday afternoon (25-18, 17-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-8), NAU cruised to a 3-0 sweep of host Air Force in the nightcap (25-20, 25-18, 25-17) to win the Falcon Invitational, its third tournament championship of the season. The Lumberjacks enter Big Sky play at 9-0, the second best start to a season in program history.
With two more wins next week, NAU would equal the 11-0 record by the 1991 team for the best start in program history. Senior middle blocker Katie Bailey, who averaged 1.33 blocks and 2.08 kills per set while hitting .262 for the tournament, was named MVP of the Falcon Invitational. Junior libero Anna Gott (4.75 digs per set) and junior outside hitter Lauren Campbell (2.30 kills per set, 1.40 digs per set) joined Bailey on the All-Tournament team.
"Our absolute strength is that these girls have a will to win, even if we aren't the biggest, strongest and fastest," said head coach Craig Choate. "Katie (Bailey) pulled us back from oblivion on Friday against SC Upstate and was really solid all weekend long. Lauren (Campbell) did a fabulous job for us this weekend; she wasn't depressed about not playing much this season and did an unbelievable job."
The first set between the Lumberjacks and Falcons opened tight at 9-9, but a 6-0 NAU run gave the Lumberjacks the advantage en route to a 25-20 set win with NAU hitting .323 for the set. The second set was controlled by the Lumberjacks early, limiting Air Force to a .093 hitting percentage and forcing nine attack errors to build a 2-0 lead with a 25-18 set.
Air Force started well in the third in building an early 9-3 advantage. NAU would come back strong, eventually pulling even at 16-16. The Lumberjacks would go on a 9-3 run from there, including the last six points of the set, to take the match with a 25-17 set score.
NAU had a balanced attack in the nightcap, with six different players recording four or more kills. Junior Lexi Sullivan led the way with nine kills while Bailey posted a team season-high of nine total blocks. Junior setter Kelli Dallmann totaled 32 assists and 10 digs, and Gott reached double-digits in digs with 14.
NAU and Utah Valley met for the second time this season to begin play on Saturday, with the Lumberjacks having defeated the Wolverines, 3-1, earlier this season. After the first set was tied at 15-15, NAU went on a 10-3 run to cruise to 25-18 first set win. Utah State came back strong in the second set, hitting .333 while limiting NAU to a .000 hitting percentage and evening the match with a 25-17 set win.
The Lumberjacks struggled again in the third, hitting just .028 as Utah Valley took a 2-1 match lead with a 25-18 set. In the fourth, NAU benefited from a -.043 hitting percentage from Utah Valley, and after a 23-22 lead took the set following a Wolverine service error and a block from Bailey and senior Kobi Christensen to move the match to a fifth set. NAU hit a match-best .421 in the fifth without committing a single attack error, with a kill from Christensen ending the set to give NAU the win.
Only one other team, No. 24 Michigan, has defeated Utah Valley this season, with NAU topping the Wolverines twice. Christensen had 15 kills and 10 digs for the match while Dallmann notched 47 assists and 11 digs. Campbell came off the bench to contribute a season-high 10 kills while Gott posted 18 digs. Utah Valley's Erica Nish had a double-double with 15 kills and 13 blocks, as Utah Valley totaled 17 team blocks for the match.
"I told the team tonight in the restaurant, 'guys, if you think it was hard now, it gets harder in conference play'", Choate said regarding opening Big Sky competition next week. "It's almost like being 0-0 again, and that's how we'll look at it."
The Lumberjacks will open both their home and Big Sky schedules on Thursday, hosting Montana State at 7 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center. The match will be televised live on Fox College Sports Pacific and NAU-TV.