FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Boasting an 8-2 record through the first half of Big Sky conference play and winners of five consecutive matches, Northern Arizona (16-3, 8-2 BSC) opens a stretch of five of the its next six matches at home at 7 p.m. Thursday vs Weber State (8-13, 2-8 BSC) in Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks are alone in third place in the Big Sky and are just one win behind the conference leaders with seven of their final 10 regular season matches to be played in Flagstaff.
Thursday's match will be televised live on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, Fox College Sports, and NAU-TV with Mitch Strohman, Sharon Falor, and Heather Hodgeson on the call. Fox Sports Arizona Plus is available on local cable as well as DirecTV (695/695-1 HD) and Dish (442/9580 HD) and NAU-TV airs on Suddenlink Flagstaff cable (4/104 HD). The broadcast will also be streamed live on Big Sky TV and NAU-TV.com with links available above.
"Coaches always put together worse case scenarios and we're way ahead of that target so we have to figure out a way to just suck it up and do it again," said NAU head coach Craig Choate about starting the second half of conference play. "The girls are really excited to go to school and sleep in and do those kinds of things after being on the road so much."
As NAU begins the second round of Big Sky matches, the Lumberjacks lead the Big Sky in opponent hitting percentage (.162) and also rank second in the conference in hitting percentage (.251), kills (13.56/set), assists (12.78/set), digs (15.81/set) and blocks (2.63/set). They are the only team in the conference to rank in the top two in each of those categories, signifying them as, statistically, the most balanced team in the conference.
The team has also built its 16-3 record with just three home matches so far this season - matches in which NAU has been utterly dominant in winning nine of 10 sets. NAU has hit .280 in its three home dates while holding its opponents to a .095 hitting percentage and posting a 13.60-11.10 kills per set advantage. The team is also averaging more assists (13.20-10.50), blocks (3.70-2.20), service aces (1.60-1.10) and digs (14.60-14.30) per set than its opponents in home matches and has committed only 39 attack errors while forcing 77 from its opposition.
In leading the Big Sky with a .162 opponent hitting percentage NAU has held 14 opponents to hitting percentages below .200 this season, a statistic that speaks to the strong defensive play of the team throughout the season. NAU is second in the Big Sky in both blocks and digs, with the team's 2.63 blocks per set the 36th best mark in NCAA Division-I. Freshman Payton Bock and sophomore Sydney Kemper both rank among the top ten blockers in the conference and senior Anna Gott is second in the Big Sky and 48th in the country with 5.13 digs per set.
Sophomore Kalee Kirby is second in the Big Sky and 34th in NCAA Division-I in averaging 11.15 assists per set. Kirby has totaled 30 or more assists in all but one match this season with 10 40-assist matches and two 50-assist matches with a career high 51 assists at Colorado. Kirby also leads the team with nine double-doubles this year and ranks fifth in the Big Sky in that category, having added 2.44 digs per set. She averaged 11.29 assists and 3.14 digs per set with two double-doubles last week and earned her first career Big Sky Player of the Week honor on Monday.
NAU's 3-0 (25-18, 25-10, 25-12) sweep of Weber State on Sept. 15 broke the program record for fewest points allowed in a match before the Lumberjacks rebroke that record two weeks ago in allowing only 39 points in a sweep of Montana. The Wildcats have a pair of Big Sky wins, at Montana and a home win over Eastern Washington, but have been swept in five of their eight conference losses. The team is 2-6 on the road this season and ranks last in the Big Sky in hitting percentage (.131) and digs (10.64/set).
The Lumberjacks outhit Weber State .375-.019 in their match in September and had an 11-6 advantage in blocks in a sweep that took just more than an hour to complete. Redshirt freshman Rebecca Fuchs led the Wildcats with nine kills in that match and leads the team with 3.08 kills per set for the season despite hitting just .109 while Audrey Gee ranks seventh in the Big Sky with 1.09 blocks per set. Weber State recorded a 3-0 sweep of NAU in Flagstaff last season.