FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After spending the first four weeks of the 2012 season with 11 matches away from Flagstaff, the NAU volleyball team takes a 9-2 overall record and 1-1 Big Sky mark into its home opener vs. Sacramento State (5-6, 1-1 BSC) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks split two matches at Idaho State and Weber State to open Big Sky play last weekend and host their first of 10 Big Sky home matches in 2012 on Thursday.
"Finally having our first home game is pretty nice," said NAU head coach Craig Choate. "They need a little down time to focus on school and relax a little bit. Sacramento State has always had the culture that they're going to hang around and dig a lot of balls and see what happens so we have to show up."
The home opener for NAU will come on the latest date in a season in program history. The Lumberjacks spent the first four weeks of the season competing in five different states (California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah) and two time zones as Arizona will be the sixth state the team has played in through just 12 matches. The homecoming will be short lived, however, as the team will head back out for three more road matches - in three different states - before its second home contest.
NAU's 3-0 (25-18, 25-10, 25-12) sweep of Weber State last Saturday was historic for many reasons. The 40 total points allowed by the Lumberjacks in the win were the fewest points allowed in a match in program history, surpassing the 46 points allowed in a 3-0 (25-10, 25-20, 25-16) win over Hampton last season. The date of the victory, Sept. 15, equaled the earliest date for NAU's first road Big Sky win in a season in program history, as the 1990 team also won at Weber State on Sept. 15 of that year. The victory was also NAU's first sweep of a conference road match since 2009 at Montana State.
Through the opening weekend of conference play NAU ranks second among the 11 teams in the Big Sky in season hitting percentage (.268) and third in opponent hitting percentage (.176), kills (13.60/set), assists (12.80/set), and blocks (2.42/set). The Lumberjacks have the conference leader in hitting percentage (Sydney Kemper, .399), have two of the top-five players in the conference in kills per set (Kelli Dallmann, 3.65, and Janae Vander Ploeg, 3.58) and have three of the top 10 blockers in the conference. Anna Gott also ranks second in the league with 4.43 digs per set and Kalee Kirby is fourth with 11.02 assists per set.
Gott is also now just 67 digs shy of the NAU career digs record. She began the season second all-time in program history with 1,305 career digs and has upped her total to 1,482 to move closer to Chelsea Robb's career digs record of 1,549. If she sticks to her career average of 4.53 digs per set, Gott would break the program record in just under 15 sets, which could be played in four or five more matches. Gott has recorded double-digit digs in nine matches this season with four matches of 20 or more digs, including a season-high 29 digs at Cal.
Sacramento State opened conference play at home last week with a sweep of Eastern Washington and a 3-2 loss to Portland State, a match in which the Hornets went down 2-0, rallied to force a fifth set, and then lost 16-14 in the fifth. The Hornets went 4-5 in nonconference play and had one common opponent with NAU in Fresno State, which both teams defeated. Sacramento State, picked to finish sixth in the 2012 Big Sky preseason poll, went 17-15 overall last year and was 10-6 in the Big Sky, finishing third during the regular season and losing to Portland State in the Big Sky Championship.
The Hornets rank in the middle of the Big Sky in offensive statistics but have been superb defensively and at the service line, leading the conference and ranking fourth in NCAA Division-I with 3.07 blocks per set and posting a Big Sky-best 1.59 service aces per set. Senior Olivia Moss leads the conference with 1.43 blocks per set with sophomore Ashley Newcomb third as the team totaled 31 blocks and 3.88 blocks per set in its first conference matches last week. NAU won in Sacramento for the first time in program history last year en route to its first season sweep of the Hornets but Sacramento State still holds a 27-10 all-time advantage.
Thursday's contest will have a free video broadcast on Big Sky TV with NAU media relations assistant Ryan Lee providing the play-by-play call. Links to the broadcast as well as live stats and ticket information are available above.