ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team's comeback bid for extend the match came up just short as it was unable to overcome a season-worst .126 hitting percentage in a 3-0 loss to Towson to begin play at the Lobo Invitational Saturday morning. The Tigers handed the Lumberjacks their first three-set loss of the season, 25-21, 25-21, 28-26, as both teams moved to 1-1 at the New Mexico hosted tournament. NAU is 6-2 heading into its tourney finale tonight versus New Mexico at 6:30 PST.
"Towson played well and executed their offense exactly the way we thought," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We fought back and scrapped for points but never really got in the defensive rhythm we are accustomed to. We know the things we need to improve though and we will learn from this."
The Lumberjacks dropped the opening set despite hitting a match-high .226 in large part because the Tigers converted at a .394 clip on the their attack. After NAU took a slight 6-4 lead early, Towson took control and led by as much as six at 19-13. The Lumberjacks slowly battled back and cut their deficit to 22-21 following a kill by junior Sydney Kemper, but Towson closed out the set with three consecutive points – two coming off NAU errors.
The Tigers roared out of the gates to open the second set, rushing out to a 15-7 lead before the Lumberjacks got into a groove by winning seven of the next points to get within 16-14. Towson pushed their lead out to 24-18 and was serving for the set when sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg gave the Lumberjacks sideout with a kill. The point was the first of three for NAU as it fought off three set points before Towson once again put the Lumberjacks' fire out with a kill to wrap up the set.
The Lumberjack grit was on display for a third time in the final set as a 6-0 Towson run had the Tigers out in front 19-10. Five Lumberjack kills – two each coming from Kemper and freshman Addy Lofstedt – highlighted a 9-1 run that brought NAU within one at 20-19 and they eventually was in position to serve for the set twice at 24-23 and 25-24. Two Tiger points gave Towson their first chance to wrap up the match, but Vander Ploeg kept NAU alive with a kill. However, two kills by Haley Pa'akaula ended the Lumberjacks' rally as NAU failed to win a set in a match for the first time this season.
The Lumberjacks' season-worst hitting percentage was coupled with their opponent's second-highest hitting percentage as Towson's .274 was only bested by Cal State Northridge's .321, which also result in a NAU loss. Kemper led the Lumberjacks with 11 kills and tied junior Taylor Stephens for the team-lead with four blocks. Junior Erin Truett handed out 24 assists and sophomore Trianna Henry had a team-high 13 digs.
NAU will play New Mexico tonight at 6:30 PST. A live video stream will be available for the match here.