BERKELEY, Calif. – After scoring a 3-1 (25-19, 25-12, 21-25, 25-17) win over Penn to advance to face Cal for the Molten Classic Presented by Hilton Garden Inn championship, NAU battled the Bears in a 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 23-25, 25-17) loss to close nonconference play for the 2012 season. The loss to Cal snapped a 17 match nonconference winning streak dating back to last season, as NAU will enter Big Sky play with a stellar 8-1 record.
"We played really well and it was really fun," said head coach Craig Choate. "The girls played their hearts out and were just fabulous. If we play like that in conference we're going to be in great shape."
Despite the size and strength of the Pac-12 Bears, ranked No. 17 in the nation to open the 2012 season, NAU was able to take a set despite a season-low.158 hitting percentage. Senior Kelli Dallmann led the way with 15 kills and 15 digs and was named to the All-Tournament team as was freshman Janae Vander Ploeg, while sophomore Kalee Kirby also had a double-double with 41 assists and 12 digs. Cal hit .253 for the match and totaled 16 blocks, including 11 from senior Shannon Hawari who was one of three Bears to post double-doubles.
"It's always fun playing big teams and it gets you pumped up but I think we hung with them and did a really good job," said senior libero Anna Gott, who had 29 digs vs Cal. "I think this is the best we've played as a team all fall and its big for us entering conference play next week."
NAU proved it would not be a walkover from the start of the match, jumping to an early 3-0 lead and maintaining a first set advantage until Cal took its first lead at 11-10. The Lumberjacks would remain in striking distance, trailing by just two points at 23-21 before Cal closed with a pair of kills to take the opening set 25-22. The Bears would take control of the second set early in opening a 7-1 lead. NAU would climb back to trail by just a point at 13-12, but Cal would subsequently open a 20-15 advantage and the Lumberjacks could get no closer than three points for the remainder of the set as the Bears took a 2-0 lead.
The Lumberjacks played their best after the intermission in holding Cal to a .140 hitting percentage in the third set. An early 10-6 lead for NAU would remain an advantage for the visitors until Cal battled back to level the set at 20-20. Still tied at 21-21, an NAU kill and block and a Cal attack error gave NAU its first set point. The Bears earned one point back before Vander Ploeg closed with a kill to force a fourth set.
Cal opened the fourth set with a 4-1 lead that eventually stretched to a 17-10 advantage. The Bears hit a match-high .378 in the fourth set and limited NAU to .140 with seven attack errors, maintaining at least a six point lead for the duration to take the set 25-17 and the match 3-1.
In Saturday's opener, Kirby had a double-double with 41 assists and a career-high 26 digs and freshman Payton Bock totaled nine blocks as NAU withheld a third set rally from Penn to complete a 3-1 (25-19, 25-12, 21-25, 25-17) victory.
Kirby also added three kills and two blocks and Dallmann recorded a double-double with 12 kills and 15 digs in the win. NAU outhit Penn .246-.098 for the match and had an 11-6 advantage in blocks, as the Lumberjacks dominated sets 1, 2 and 4 but was upended in the third set.
The teams played even through the majority of the opening set as NAU held a slim 19-18 lead. NAU would close the set on a 6-1 run, including four kills and a block, to take a 1-0 match lead. The Lumberjacks would dominate the second set, totaling 12 kills and just one attack error in the set while hitting .423. Vander Ploeg had seven kills, a block and an ace in the set and Penn hit .071 as NAU took the set 25-12 to take a 2-0 match lead.
Penn responded in the third, hitting a match high .262 and limiting NAU to a .200 average. Despite the difference in hitting, NAU and Penn were tied at 19-19 late before the Quakers capitalized on two NAU attack errors and two service errors to close on a 6-2 run and force a fourth set. NAU regained its dominance in the fourth set, turning a 17-16 lead into a 25-17 win with an 8-1 finish in which Penn committed four attack errors and NAU scored four of the last five points of the match with kills.
The loss to Cal was the first nonconference loss for NAU since a 3-0 loss to No. 24 Arizona on Sept. 11, 2010. The Lumberjacks will open conference play at Idaho State on Friday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m. Arizona time.