FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Following a dominant sweep of Montana State on Thursday and having won five of its last six matches, the NAU volleyball team (13-3, 5-2 BSC) will host Montana (3-13, 1-6 BSC) at 7:30 Saturday in Rolle Activity Center in the team's annual Think Pink match for breast cancer awareness. Fans who wear pink to the match will receive free admission.
Saturday's tilt will again be televised live in high definition on Fox Sports Arizona, Fox College Sports Pacific, NAU-TV on Suddenlink Flagstaff channels 4 and 104 in HD, and online on Big Sky TV and NAU-TV.com. Mitch Strohman, Sharon Falor, and Heather Hodgeson will have the call live throughout the state of Arizona and nationally on Fox College Sports and online.
Both the 2011 and 2012 Lumberjacks started the season 13-3, but the numbers this season are far superior. The team is hitting .243 in 2012 compared to a .191 hitting percentage through 16 matches in 2011 and is also averaging significantly more kills (13.41/set to 12.30/set), assists (12.66/set to 11.57/set), and blocks (2.57/set to 2.22/set) this year with a slightly lower dig average. Three Lumberjack players have scored 175 or more points this season while none had broken that threshold at this point last year, and the 13-3 start in 2011 included six home matches while the 2012 squad has played just two home matches thus far.
The Lumberjacks outlasted Montana State in a tight first set before easing to second and third set wins on Thursday to move to a tie for third place in the Big Sky standings. Senior Kelli Dallmann and freshman Janae Vander Ploeg paced the Lumberjacks with 10 kills apiece and NAU held the Bobcats to a .083 hitting percentage, its second time in as many home matches this season keeping its opponent below a .100 hitting percentage.
Vander Ploeg added eight digs and four blocks in her second career home match after the Lumberjacks played 14 of their first 15 matches of the 2012 season away from Flagstaff.
"We've gone through a lot of adversity with all the away games and we've learned to always keep fighting and battle for everything," she said. "Our serve-receive was good from the start (on Thursday) and that was big for us. We still know we need to take it one game at a time and never overlook an opponent and keep having fun on the court."
Another NAU player putting together a tremendous 2012 season is senior Anna Gott, who, after breaking the NAU career digs record last week at Portland State, totaled 16 digs vs Montana State and moved to ninth all-time in Big Sky history in career digs. She is averaging a career-best 5.05 digs per set this season and could ascend as high as 7th in Big Sky career digs with another strong defensive performance on Saturday.
Montana has had a rough start to its conference season at 1-6, though three of its six Big Sky losses have come in five sets. The Griz scored a 3-0 sweep of Eastern Washington for their lone conference win and took a 3-0 loss at Southern Utah on Thursday. After narrowly missing a Big Sky championship berth last year with an 8-8 conference record the Griz were picked to finish fifth in the conference this year but have struggled thus far, ranking second to last in the Big Sky in opponent hitting percentage, assists, kills, and service aces.
The team has had its most success blocking as it is fourth in the Big Sky with 2.45 blocks per set, though that number has decreased to 2.23 during conference play. Junior Brooke Bray leads the league with 83 blocks for the season and is fourth with a .324 hitting percentage as the only Griz player to rank in the top five in the conference in any statistical category. Montana has been outhit .216-.173 this season and is allowing more than two kills per set more than it records offensively. NAU and Montana split their season series last year and the Griz hold a 32-23 all-time advantage.