BOZEMAN, Mont. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team battled back from a first-set loss to take a 2-1 lead in the match, but Montana State denied the Lumberjacks of their fourth consecutive victory, rallying for a five-set win Saturday night. The Bobcats earned a 25-23, 23-25, 19-25, 25-18, 15-13 win as the Lumberjacks fell to 11-5 overall and 5-2 in the conference.
"I thought we fought hard but we didn't play with the confidence that we usually have at home," said head coach Ken Murphy. "It was a great close match and I thought Montana State played really well executing their offense. Tonight is a part of our learning process of being out on the road in a different environment and being the team we want to be."
After a first set loss that saw the Bobcats overcome a late 21-17 deficit to take eight of the last 10 points, the Lumberjacks recovered to even the match with a tough second set victory. It was NAU who needed to fight back from a deficit after Montana State took a 12-8 lead. Using a steady surge, the Lumberjacks eventually knotted the set at 15-15 following a kill by junior Sydney Kemper and eventually led by five at 22-17 after junior Taylor Stephens spiked a kill. Montana State had one more run in them closing to 24-23 before an attack error gave NAU the set win.
The Lumberjacks played their best set of the night in the third as they rode a .444 hitting percentage to a 25-19 victory. As well as NAU played though, the set was still tied at 16-all before the Lumberjacks finished with a flurry, taking nine of the final 12 points. Six Bobcat errors aided the set-clinching run as NAU moved to one set away from earning a victory in its first of two matches in two nights.
However, the home team had different plans as it broke open a tight fourth set to send the match to a deciding fifth set. In the fifth set, Montana State never trailed as it led by as many as five points at 11-6. Three consecutive points brought the Lumberjacks within 11-9 forcing an MSU timeout. Consecutive kills by freshman Addy Lofstedt and sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg closed the gap to one at 12-11, but the Lumberjacks were unable to string together consecutive points from there as both teams traded points until the Bobcats reached 15.
Montana State held the slight hitting advantage at .191 to .186, but the Lumberjacks won the battle of the blocks, 13.0 to 10.0. Stephens led the way with a match-high eight blocks as four Lumberjacks totaled at least four blocks in the match. Vander Ploeg recorded a season-high 18 kills – the high for any NAU player thus far this season – and Kemper was also in double-digits with 12 kills. Freshman Jensen Barton came out of reserve to notch 35 assists and three Lumberjacks finished with double-digit digs led by sophomore Trianna Henry's 20. Henry made her return to the lineup at libero after missing the last four matches.
The Lumberjacks look to end their short road trip with a victory Saturday night when they travel to Missoula to play Montana. The Grizzlies swept Southern Utah on Friday to improve to 7-9 overall and 4-3 in Big Sky play.