FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The 9-0 NAU volleyball team begins the conference portion of its schedule this week, hosting Montana State (0-10) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Montana (3-5) on Saturday at 4 p.m. NAU is one of only 14 NCAA Division-I volleyball teams that begin the week undefeated (out of 321 total NCAA D-I teams). Only five teams in the country have more wins this year than NAU. Thursday's match will be televised live on Fox College Sports Pacific and NAU-TV and air tape delayed on Fox Sports Arizona at 10 p.m.
Northern Arizona is off to the second best season start in program history and can equal the 1991 team and its 11-0 start with two wins this week. Ironically, the 1991 team, which advanced to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, ran its record to 11-0 by defeating Montana State and suffered its first loss against Montana. The Lumberjacks have won eight consecutive matches against Montana State but have lost six consecutive matches to Montana.
As one of only 14 undefeated teams in the nation, Northern Arizona is among elite company entering play this week. Of the 13 other undefeated schools, nine are ranked in the AVCA Top 25, including the top four teams in the country, while another is receiving votes in the poll. Only four other undefeated teams (San Diego, George Washington, Bowling Green and TCU) are not from major conferences. Meanwhile, only No. 1 California (10-0), No. 17 San Diego (10-0), UC Davis (10-1), Missouri (11-2), and Towson (10-3) have more season victories than the Lumberjacks.
NAU completed a perfect non-conference schedule with its third tournament victory last weekend at the Falcon Invitational. The Lumberjacks won multiple tournaments for the first time since the 2008 squad recorded two tournament titles and won three tournaments for only the second time in program history. While the Lumberjacks had four three set wins, they also rallied from 1-0 deficits three times during tournament play and came back from a 2-0 deficit. In addition to their undefeated record, NAU earned 11 All-Tournament team selections with three MVP awards and a Top Defensive Player honor.
Entering conference play, Northern Arizona is among the Big Sky leaders in every statistical category. NAU is in the top-three in every major statistical category and leads the conference in opponent hitting percentage (.133) and service aces per set (1.23). The Lumberjacks are second in the conference in kills per set (12.69), hitting percentage (.204) and assists per set (11.80). NAU's opponent hitting percentage of .113 is nearly 40 points better than the next closest conference team (Portland State, .152). Every other conference team also has at least four losses.
Individually, NAU has the Big Sky leaders in kills (Kobi Christensen, 3.77/set), assists (Kelli Dallmann, 10.46/set) and blocks (Sydney Kemper, 1.20/set). Dallman is second in aces per set (0.34) while Lexi Sullivan is just behind her in third (0.33). Katie Bailey is third in blocks (1.09 per set) and third in hitting percentage (.278).
Montana State has had a tough start to the 2011 campaign, having gone winless in three tournaments. The Bobcats have not had the benefit of playing a home match yet this season, playing their initial 12 matches of the season away from Bozeman. The team has forced a fifth set in a pair of matches against Jacksonville and Illinois Chicago and has won at least one set in six matches. The team is last in the Big Sky in opponent hitting percentage (.249), blocks (1.55/set) and service aces (0.87/set).
Sophomore libero Nicole Baker leads the team and is third in the Big Sky with 4.37 digs per set while sophomore Sarah Horton leads the team with 2.68 kills per set. NAU has won eight consecutive meetings with Montana State, dating back to 2006, and holds a 28-22 advantage in the all-time series.
Montana, picked to finish third in the Big Sky preseason poll, enters the week at 3-5 with wins over Stony Brook, Southern Utah, and Green Bay. The team dropped all three of its matches in its home tournament last weekend, falling to South Dakota, Cal State Fullerton, and Idaho. Montana ranks in the middle of the Big Sky in most statistical categories but has struggled in blocks, placing eighth in the conference with an average of 1.60 blocks per set.
Sophomore Kayla Reno leads the team with 2.87 kills per set while senior Brittany Quick ranks fifth in the Big Sky with 0.97 blocks per set. Montana has won six consecutive matches against the Lumberjacks, and NAU has not defeated Montana in Flagstaff since 2006. The Grizzlies hold a 31-22 all-time series advantage.
NAU Volleyball Best Season Starts (Through Nine Matches)
Year - Record - Finish
2011 - 9-0 - ???
1991 - 9-0 - 26-8, NIVC Championship Participant
2008 - 8-1 - 15-10
1999 - 7-2 - 19-10, Big Sky Champion, NCAA Tournament
1992 - 7-2 - 17-11
1981 - 7-2 - 12-11
1983 - 7-2 - 19-10