Photo by Jerry Johnson
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Winners of six straight matches and nine of their last 10 contests, the NAU volleyball team (17-3, 9-2 BSC) looks to continue its ascent to the top of the Big Sky when it hosts league-leading Idaho State (16-4, 10-1 BSC) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Rolle Activity Center. The Bengals, tied with Portland State for first place in the conference, handed NAU one of its two Big Sky losses to open conference play on Sept. 14 in Pocatello.
All fans who present a game ticket from the NAU football game vs. UC Davis will receive FREE admission to the match.
"We're playing for first place and it's been a really long time since this team played for first place this late into a season," said fifth year NAU head coach Craig Choate. "We've got to be ready and start the match with a lot of energy."
The Lumberjacks outlasted Weber State in a wild five set match on Thursday to improve to 9-2 in conference play and complete a season sweep of the Wildcats. The match was NAU's first five set match of the year and was the farthest into a season the program had ever gone before its first five-setter. Weber State narrowly won the first and third sets to take a 2-1 lead, but NAU held the Wildcats to negative hitting percentages in the fourth and fifth sets to come back from down 2-1 to win for the first time this season.
With a win on Saturday NAU could move into a tie for first place in the conference if Portland State were to lose at home against Sacramento State. Regardless of the Vikings' outcome a win against the Bengals would give NAU a season split with Idaho State, which could prove vital in a tiebreaking scenario should the teams end the season with the same conference mark. The top six teams in the final Big Sky standings will play in the Big Sky Championship with the top two seeds earning crucial byes into the semifinal round.
The Lumberjacks held Weber State to a .071 hitting percentage on Thursday to drop their Big Sky-leading opponent hitting percentage down to .157. The team also remains second in the conference in hitting percentage (.249), kills (13.38/set), assists (12.53/set), and blocks (2.66/set) and is third in digs (15.53/set). It is the only team in the conference to rank in the top three in each of those categories, signifying them as, statistically, the most balanced team in the conference.
NAU has also now outhit its opponents .260 to .086 in its four home matches in which it has won 12 of 15 sets. On its home floor the team has a 12.73-10.53 kills per set advantage and is also averaging more assists (11.87-9.87), blocks (3.47-2.57), service aces (1.33-1.07) and digs (13.67-13.33) per set than its opponents and has committed only 63 attack errors while forcing 114 from its opposition.
Idaho State, picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky preseason poll, has gone 10-1 thus far in conference play with a 3-2 loss at Montana State its only blemish. The Bengals are on a six match winning streak which includes a sweep of previously undefeated Portland State and a 3-1 win at Southern Utah on Thursday. Idaho State is the only team this season to hit above .250 against NAU as it hit .387 and had three players total double-digit kills in a 3-1 win in Pocatello on Sept. 14. Senior Breanne Van Every hit .444 with 23 kills in that match and setter Lori Mendenhall had 62 assists as the Bengals scored the win despite NAU hitting a solid .286 for the match.
For the season Idaho State leads the Big Sky in hitting percentage (.252), kills (13.84/set), and assists (13.00/set) with Mendenhall leading the conference and ranking 28th in the NCAA with 11.21 assists per set. Senior Jaclyn Hone is fifth in the Big Sky with a .316 hitting percentage and freshman Tressa Lyman leads the team with 3.41 kills per set. The Bengals have played seven of 11 Big Sky matches at home and have yet to play any of the other top three teams in the conference away from Pocatello. NAU has dropped seven straight matches to Idaho State.