Photo Courtesy Sam Borozan
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Winners of 12 consecutive nonconference matches and four consecutive tournaments dating back to last season, the NAU volleyball team (3-0) heads to its second nonconference tournament of the season this weekend at the Omni Hotels Colorado Volleyball Classic in Boulder, Colo. The Lumberjacks will open play vs. Fresno State (2-1) at 3 p.m. Friday before facing host Colorado (3-0) and Cornell (0-0) at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, on Saturday.
"Last week was fun but it was last week," said NAU head coach Craig Choate regarding the Lumberjacks championship at the UNLV Invitational. "The grind of the college game is that the three teams we're playing this week don't care that we're 3-0. We're going to have to grind it out again this week."
NAU hit an astounding .356 in winning its three matches in Las Vegas, which was .200 higher than their opponent hitting percentage of .156. Through the opening weekend of the season, NAU leads the Big Sky in hitting percentage by a wide margin, with Idaho State in second at .237, and also leads the conference in kills and assists. The Lumberjacks hit above .300 (and .345 or better to be specific) in each of their three matches last weekend; by comparison, the team totaled one match above .300 in 25 matches last season. Senior Jen Wilson leads the Big Sky with a .500 hitting percentage and NAU has four of the top-six individual hitting percentages in the conference.
Senior Kelli Dallmann, playing her first matches as a full time outside hitter after serving as NAU's primary setter the last three seasons, left little doubt that her move to the outside would be a successful venture. After hitting .366 and averaging 4.00 kills per set to lead NAU to a championship in the UNLV Invitational, Dallmann was named tournament MVP and was subsequently named the Co-Big Sky Volleyball Player of the Week. She totaled 44 kills for the weekend (4.00 kills/set) while hitting .366 and added 17 digs (1.55 digs/set) as well as two blocks, totaling 4.2 points per set. She hit .320 or better in each match and committed just 10 attack errors with 44 kills in 93 attempts for the tournament and earned her third Big Sky Player of the Week honor during her NAU career.
The UNLV Invitational was also a superb debut for NAU's three freshmen. Outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg started all three matches and proved why she was a two-time Colorado high school volleyball player of the year selection, averaging 2.91 kills per set while hitting .370. She also was third on the team with 21 total digs (1.91/set) and ranked fourth with five total blocks, including a team-high two solo blocks, and was named to the All-Tournament team. Middle blocker Payton Bock also started all three matches and played in all but one set while hitting .290 and 1.90 kills per set and seven blocks. Last but certainly not least, Trianna Henry provided a defense spark for NAU off the bench, placing second on the team with 25 digs and 2.27 digs per set.
Fresno State, which will be NAU's second consecutive opponent from the Mountain West Conference, opened its season with a 2-1 record at the El Paso Sports Commission Invitational, defeating host UTEP and Big Sky member Idaho State and losing to Arizona State. The Bulldogs rallied for a five-set win over UTEP to open the season before getting swept by ASU and sweeping Idaho State. Fresno State went 14-15 overall last season and 7-7 in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) before joining the Mountain West this season. NAU is 2-6 all-time vs Fresno State including a 3-1 loss the last time the teams met in 2008.
The tournament host Buffaloes are looking for a reversal of fortune in 2012 after going 6-24 overall and 1-21 in their first season in the Pac-12 in 2011. They got off to a great start in sweeping the Sam Houston State Invitational last weekend in Texas, sweeping Texas Southern and Louisiana and rallying from down two sets to none to defeat host Sam Houston State in five. Colorado has five players that stand 6' 2" or taller, including two players at 6' 5", and totaled 27.5 team blocks in the three matches in Texas. NAU is 2-1 vs Colorado but both wins came before 1980, the first year in which full season results were recorded. The only other meeting between the schools came in 1988 in a 3-1 win for the Buffaloes.
Based on Ivy League rules, Cornell did not play last weekend and will open its season on Friday in Colorado under first-year head coach Melissa Batie-Smoose. The Big Red went 5-21 in 2011 and finished seventh in the Ivy League with a 3-11 conference record. Cornell is the first of three first-time opponents on NAU's schedule this season and also the first Ivy League opponent the squad has ever faced. NAU will face another Ivy League school, Penn, next weekend.