FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Colorado hit .368 for the match and had an 11-3 advantage in blocks to spoil the final home match for five NAU seniors in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-18) win on Saturday night in Rolle Activity Center.
NAU ends the regular season at 15-5 in conference play and 23-6 overall and will be the third seed in next week's Big Sky Championship. Northern Colorado, which will host the conference tournament, will be the four seed after ending its regular season at 14-6 in the Big Sky and 21-10 overall.
The Lumberjacks will not know who their first opponent in the Big Sky Championship will be until Montana State and Montana play on Monday. If Montana State wins it would be the Lumberjack's quarterfinal opponent as the sixth seed, but if Montana State loses Sacramento State would finish sixth and face NAU. Portland State won the regular season title while Idaho State finished second followed by NAU, Northern Colorado, and North Dakota.
"Northern Colorado just played better tonight," NAU head coach Craig Choate said. "They came into the gym ready to go and played well. I don't think we played badly but Northern Colorado beat us tonight. I wanted to win the match but I'm ok with it; it doesn't change our seed for next week and it doesn't change the season we've had."
The .368 average for the Bears was the second highest hitting percentage against NAU this season and was nearly three times higher than what NAU's opponent hitting percentage had been through nine home matches this season. NAU hit .179 for the match, had a season-low three blocks, and was outdug 50-35. Senior Kelli Dallmann led the Lumberjacks with 12 kills and eight digs while Sophomore Sydney Kemper and freshman Payton Bock each totaled eight kills and senior Lexi Sullivan had seven kills on a .667 hitting percentage in her final home match.
Northern Colorado started its offensive onslaught early in hitting .438 with 17 kills and just three attack errors in the opening set. The set was level at 12-12 early before the Bears used a 6-2 run to take an 18-14 lead. NAU hit a solid .289 in the set but could not slow the UNC attack as the Bears extended to a 23-17 lead en route to a 25-19 first-set win.
The Bears took an 8-5 lead early in the second set before NAU battled back to within 12-11. The Lumberjacks trailed again by one at 14-13, but four consecutive kills extended the visitor's lead to 18-13. With their lead at 19-15 UNC went on another extended run to build a 23-15 advantage, and after NAU battled back to a 24-20 score after fending off a pair of set points the Bears got a kill from sophomore Brianna Strong to take a 2-0 lead.
After the intermission the Bears continued to swing well and increased their defensive effort in totaling five blocks in the third set and holding the Lumberjacks to a .088 hitting percentage. The visitors turned a 6-6 tie into a 9-6 lead that extended to a 13-9 advantage. The Lumberjacks remained in striking distance to 16-13 before the Bears built a 19-13 lead. NAU got no closer than four points through the remainder of the set as Northern Colorado handed the Lumberjacks just their second 3-0 loss of the season.
NAU will play in the first match of the Big Sky Championship with its quarterfinal matchup at 9 a.m. next Friday in Greeley, Colo.