Volleyball to Close Regular Season Road Slate in Montana
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With the Big Sky Championship just two weeks away the NAU volleyball team (20-5, 12-4 Big Sky) will play its final road matches of the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at Montana (6-19, 4-12 Big Sky) and at 7 p.m. Saturday at Montana State (14-10, 8-8 Big Sky). The Lumberjacks sit in third place in the Big Sky and can tie the program record for most road wins in a season with a pair of victories this weekend.
With its 3-1 win over Portland State last Saturday the Lumberjacks reached 20 wins for just the third time in program history. The 1982 squad finished with 21 wins and the 1991 team set the program record with 26 wins as it won the Big Sky Championship and advanced to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC). With a 26-8 overall mark the 1991 team also holds the record for best season winning percentage at .765. The Lumberjacks currently have an .800 winning percentage this season and have at least five more matches as they look to go down as the best team in program history.
NAU's win over Portland State ended a 16 match losing streak to the Vikings dating back to 2004. It also gave the Lumberjacks season splits with both of the teams above them in the Big Sky standings, Idaho State and Portland State, as the team topped both of them on its home floor. NAU also already has a road win at Northern Colorado, as the program topped the three Big Sky powers that it set out to defeat during the regular season. Coincidentally the Division-I team that NAU has the longest active winning streak against is the team it faces Saturday, as the Lumberjacks have won 11 consecutive meetings with Montana State.
NAU has clinched a berth in the Big Sky championship as has Idaho State, Portland State, and Northern Colorado while the final two qualifying spots remain undecided. At 12-4 the Lumberjacks are one win ahead of Northern Colorado for third place in the conference behind league leading Portland State and Idaho State, who share 14-2 conference records. 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. If the standings were to remain as they currently are, NAU would face North Dakota in the quarterfinals.
In winning 13 matches this year away from Flagstaff (seven road wins, six neutral site wins), NAU has already combined for the most road and neutral site wins in a season since the 1991 team won 16 matches outside of Flagstaff and advanced to the NIVC national championship. The seven road wins this season are the second most in program history and the team is just two road wins shy of the best road win total of nine set in 1991. NAU has also already recorded as many Big Sky road wins (five) as it has totaled in any season since the 2000 team also won five road matches en route to winning the Big Sky championship.
Montana has lost four consecutive matches, all on the road, to drop to 4-12 in Big Sky play. The team is now 1-10 on the road this season but is 4-6 at home including a 3-1 upset of Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies rank last in the Big Sky in opponent hitting percentage and service aces and are second to last in kills. NAU had arguably its most dominant win in program history the first time the teams met this season in Flagstaff, sweeping to Grizzlies 3-0 (25-8, 25-11, 25-20) and allowing the fewest points in a match in program history. Montana holds a 32-24 edge in the all-time series and NAU has not won in Missoula since 2007.
Montana State is battling for one of the final Big Sky Championship spots and begins the week in fifth place with an 8-8 conference mark. The Bobcats were picked to finish last in the Big Sky in the preseason coaches' poll after going 6-23 last season but have been solid this season with eight conference wins, including a 3-2 win over Big Sky leading Idaho State. NAU scored a 3-0 sweep of the Bobcats in Flagstaff in early October as the visitors were held to .084 hitting percentage and were outblocked 10-6. The Lumberjacks have not lost to MSU since 2006.