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October 9, 2013

Volleyball Aims to Continue Winning Ways at MSU, UM

Match Information:

Opponent: Montana State (Friday, Oct. 11/6:00 p.m.)

Location: Bozeman, Mont.

Live Stats: www.msubobcats.com

Opponent: Montana (Saturday, Oct. 12/6:00 p.m.)

Location: Missoula, Mont.

Live Stats: www.gogriz.com

Video: www.WatchBigSky.com

GAME NOTES (PDF)

PREVIEW WITH TAYLOR STEPHENS (VIDEO)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona volleyball team hopes to extend its three-match win streak this week with road matches at Montana State and Montana before returning home to wrap up the first half of conference play next week. The Lumberjacks bring a ton of momentum with them to the state of Montana after sweeping three matches at home last week as they have begun conference play with a 5-1 record, their best start to the conference season since the Lumberjacks started 6-1 in 1998.

Junior Sydney Kemper earned Big Sky Player of the Week honors after a stellar week. She averaged 3.44 kills, 3.00 digs and 1.11 blocks per set while hitting .474 in the team's three sweeps. Junior Taylor Stephens was also exceptional as she averaged 2.11 kills and 1.78 blocks per set while hitting a blistering .533. As a team the Lumberjacks had four players average at least two kills per set during the week. They hit .250 in their three matches and limited their three opponents to a .054 clip.

Series History: The Lumberjacks swept both of the season series against Montana and Montana State last year. In fact, the Lumberjacks have won the past 13 meetings against Montana State and have not lost to the Bobcats since Oct. 26, 2006. Last year, NAU won in four sets at home and fought to a five-set victory in Bozeman, Mont. before sweeping the Bobcats in the Big Sky quarterfinals. NAU leads the all-time series 33-22.

The Lumberjacks earned their first season series sweep of Montana since 2003 with their two wins over the Grizzlies last year. NAU did not drop a set in either of the matches last year and set a school record for fewest points allowed (39) in its sweep of Montana at home. The win in Missoula, Mont. last year snapped a four-match losing streak for the Lumberjacks on the Grizzlies' home court. UM leads the all-time series 32-25.

Coach Ken Murphy Quote for the Week: "What I like most about our team is our resiliency. We've had as much adversity as any team I've ever coached but this team just keeps finding ways to win. Sometimes our offense is stronger on some nights and sometimes our defense is stronger but we're finding ways to be successful. We're focused on being the best team we can be and the great thing is that the girls talk about the being the best they can be as well."

About Montana State (3-14, 1-5 BSC): Montana State is 3-14 overall and 1-5 in the conference but is coming off its first Big Sky victory of the season. The Bobcats swept Weber State on the road last Saturday, a win which snapped a six-match losing skid. In the victory, Montana State hit a season-best .287 and recorded a season-high 10 blocks.

The Bobcats are led by a pair of freshmen - Kennadie Clute and Loni Kreun, who both rank among the top-five in the Big Sky in kills.  Clute averages a conference-best 4.09 kills per set and is the only player in the conference with a kill average better than 4.00. Meanwhile, Kreun is fifth at 3.12 kills per set. A third freshman - Anna Sykora - has the keys to the offense and is third in the conference with 10.31 assists per set.

About Montana (6-9, 3-3 BSC): Montana enters the weekend one of three teams in the middle of the conference with an even 3-3 Big Sky mark following a split last week. The Grizzlies took down Weber State in four sets, but later was swept by Idaho State which snapped their two-match win streak. This weekend will only be Montana's second homestand of the season and its first since the opening weekend of conference play. 

The Grizzlies are the strongest at the net in the conference, averaging a Big Sky leading 2.63 blocks per set. Montana has two of the top-five blockers in the conference led by senior Brooke Bray, who sits in third with 1.29 per set. Junior Natalie Jones is right behind in fifth at 1.16 blocks per set. The duo are also both in the top-10 in the conference in hitting percentage with Bray's team-best .288 percentage. Senior Kayla Reno is seventh in the Big Sky with 3.04 kills per set.

Block Party: After recording double-digit team blocks just once in their first nine matches, the Lumberjacks did so in each of their first two conference matches. NAU totaled a season-best 17.0 blocks in its win over Idaho State on Sept. 19, its highest single-match total since - ironically - Idaho State last visited Flagstaff on Oct. 20, 2012. The Lumberjacks then followed that up with 12.0 blocks against Weber State on Sept. 21 as they saw their block average jump from 2.07 entering the weekend to 2.42 at the end of it. NAU continued its strong play at the net as it posted 11.0 blocks at Sacramento State on Sept. 27 to extend its double-digit block streak to three matches.

Stephens has been instrumental in NAU's block surge as she is currently averaging 1.62 blocks per set in conference play. Kemper and sophomore Payton Bock are also averaging at least 1.00 blocks per set as the Lumberjacks have recorded 27.0 more blocks than their opponents through six Big Sky matches.

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