BOZEMAN, Mont. - After NAU took a 2-0 lead Montana State rallied to force a fifth set and withstood six match points in the fifth before the Lumberjacks were able to complete a 3-2 (25-23, 25-15, 13-25, 19-25, 19-17) win on Saturday night in Bozeman. NAU improved to 14-4 in the Big Sky and 22-5 overall, the second most wins in a season in program history, while also tying the program record with its ninth road win of the season.
"It was just like at Sacramento State; when they got in trouble they went back and started serving Beebe's the rest of the night," head coach Craig Choate said comparing the match to the five set loss NAU took earlier this against Sacramento State when the Hornets came back from down 2-0. "They got us in a lot of trouble doing that and we never quite responded until the fifth. It was just a good match; we usually have trouble playing up here and they play us well."
In the decisive fifth set the teams were even at 11-11 before NAU got a block and two kills from freshman Janae Vander Ploeg to reach match point at 14-11. The Bobcats fended off three match points to even the set at 14 before another Vander Ploeg kill gave NAU a 15-14 lead. Montana State again held strong and did so again down 16-15 and 17-16. After NAU's sixth match point was denied and the set moved to 17-17, the Lumberjacks got a kill from senior Jen Wilson and a Bobcat attack error to clinch the match.
Vander Ploeg finished with a team-high 14 kills along with nine digs and five blocks while fellow freshman Payton Bock totaled 13 kills on a .440 hitting percentage and a match-high seven blocks. Sophomore setter Kalee Kirby tallied another double-double with 52 assists and 10 digs and senior Kelli Dallmann posted a career-high 23 digs to go with eight kills, four blocks, and two service aces. NAU outblocked MSU 14-8 and had a 72-69 dig advantage to win despite being outhit by the Bobcats .220-.212 and tallying 15 less kills.
The Bobcats jumped to a 4-0 lead to open the match but NAU would draw even at 7-7 and take an 11-7 lead in the first set. Montana State came back to level the set at 11 remained close to a 19-19 stalemate. NAU won two consecutive points then moved to set point at 24-22. The Bobcats withstood the first set point but an ensuing kill from Kirby gave the Lumberjacks the first set.
The second set was tied early at 7-7 before NAU used a 7-1 run to take a 14-8 lead. The Bobcats could get no closer than four points for the rest of the frame as NAU hit .400 in the set with no attack errors. The Lumberjacks reached set point at 24-14 and won it at 25-15 on a kill from senior Lexi Sullivan.
After committing 18 attack errors through the first two sets, Montana State hit .533 with 17 kills and just a single attack error in the third set. NAU trailed by just a point at 8-7 before the Bobcats went on a 6-2 run to open up a 14-9 lead. The home team used another extended run to move a 17-12 lead to a commanding 25-13 set win to extend the match.
In the fourth NAU was held to a -.051 hitting percentage with seven kills and nine attack errors. The Bobcats jumped to a 10-6 lead and extended to a 16-9 advantage as NAU called two timeouts in an effort to slow the Montana State momentum. The Lumberjacks went on a 7-4 run to get within a 20-16 deficit before the Bobcats responded with three consecutive points and took the set to force the fifth.
NAU remains in third place in the Big Sky and is now two wins ahead of fourth-place Northern Colorado and one win behind Portland State for second place. The Lumberjacks return home to close the regular season with matches at 6 p.m. Thursday vs. North Dakota and at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday vs. Northern Colorado.