FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU volleyball team (19-5, 11-4 Big Sky) looks to bounce back from a five-set setback to Eastern Washington on Thursday when it hosts Big Sky-leading Portland State (18-8, 14-1 Big Sky) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Rolle Activity Center.
Saturday's match will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona, FOX College Sports, and NAU-TV. FOX Sports Arizona is available on basic cable and satellite (DirecTV 686, Dish 365/415) throughout Arizona as well as parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. FOX College Sports is available nationally on digital cable and NAU-TV airs on Suddenlink Flagstaff cable channels 4 and 104 in HD. Jordan Byrd, Sharon Falor, and Heather Hodgeson will have the call as the broadcast will also stream live on Big Sky TV and NAU-TV.com with links to video and live stats above.
Despite the loss to Eastern Washington NAU clinched its first berth in the Big Sky championship since 2007 by virtue of Sacramento State's 3-2 loss to Northern Colorado. At 11-4 the Lumberjacks are one win ahead of Northern Colorado for third place in the conference behind league leading Portland State (14-1) and Idaho State (12-2), which both clinched Big Sky tournament bids last weekend. The top six teams in the final conference standings will qualify for the Big Sky Championship, but under the new format the top two seeds will receive a bye into the semifinals while seeds three through six will have to win quarterfinal and semifinal matches on the first day of the tournament to advance to the finals.
NAU continues to get strong play from its freshmen as rookies Payton Bock and Janae Vander Ploeg each totaled 20 kills against the Eagles. The kill total was a career high for Bock who hit .528 in the match with just one attack error in 36 swings while also adding a team-high five blocks. Vander Ploeg tied a career high with 14 digs to go with her 20 kills as she totaled her fifth double-double of the season. Vander Ploeg now leads the team with 335.0 total points this season while Bock has led the team with 206.5 points in conference play as the pair may be battling each other for Big Sky Outstanding Freshman honors.
Setter Kalee Kirby also had a superb night against Eastern Washington as she recorded a career-high 64 assists along with nine digs, two service aces, a kill, and a block. Kirby is second in the Big Sky and 39th in NCAA Division-I in averaging 11.17 assists per set this season and has totaled 30 or more assists in all but one match this season with 13 40-assist matches, three 50-assist matches, and two 60-assist matches. She also leads the team with 10 double-doubles this year and ranks fifth in the Big Sky in that category, having added 2.41 digs per set.
Portland State is 14-1 in the Big Sky with six sweeps in conference play. The Vikings only conference loss came in a 3-0 sweep at the hands of Idaho State in Pocatello as the team clinched a berth in the Big Sky championship last Saturday. Portland State leads the Big Sky and ranks 21st in the NCAA with 1.45 service aces per set and is 29th in the nation with 17.31 digs per set. The team also leads the conference with a .166 opponent hitting percentage and is fourth in kills and assists and scored a 3-2 win at Southern Utah on Thursday.
NAU's only 3-0 loss of the season came at Portland State on Sept. 27 as the Lumberjacks were limited to a .141 team hitting percentage and just 5.0 blocks. PSU junior Jaklyn Wheeler had 19 kills and 11 digs in that match and ranks second in the Big Sky with 3.98 kills per set for the season. Libero Kasimira Clark totaled 19 digs and five aces and leads the Big Sky while ranking 28th nationally with a 5.34 season digs per set average. NAU has lost 16 consecutive matches to Portland State and has not beaten the Vikings since 2004.