FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona volleyball ran a consistent offense throughout its match Saturday night in winning its fourth consecutive match, 25-21, 25-19, 26-24. Sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg and freshman Addy Lofstedt combined for 28 of the Lumberjacks' 40 kills as NAU improved to 16-6 overall and 10-3 in the conference by sweeping Sacramento State. The Lumberjacks remain in a tie for second place with three weeks left in the regular season.
"I thought Janae and Addy were really good," said head coach Ken Murphy. "Sac State was giving us the outside a little bit and we kept taking advantage of it. Our team has a good tendency of taking what other teams give us and tonight Janae and Addy did a great job of picking up points for us."
Both teams came out of the gate swinging as the Lumberjacks hit .417 in the opening set compared to the Hornets' .357 mark. The set was played closely from the beginning but the Lumberjacks capitalized on a flurry of Hornet errors to open up an 18-12 advantage. After Sacramento State closed within 23-21, Vander Ploeg converted on her fourth kill of the set and the Lumberjacks would wrap up the set on the following point.
The second set was another tight affair through the first half of the set as the Lumberjacks held a slight lead at 17-16. Three consecutive errors by the Hornets put NAU ahead by four, but the visitors claimed the next three points right back to get within 20-19 yet again. From there, Lofstedt and Vander Ploeg carried the Lumberjacks as the duo combined for three kills in a final 5-0 run to close out the set and give NAU a 2-0 lead in the match.
NAU carried its momentum after the intermission and led 16-11 following a solo block by junior Taylor Stephens that forced the Hornets to call a timeout. The timeout briefly stemmed the tide, but the Lumberjacks extended its lead to 23-16. After the Hornets cut the lead to 23-19, sophomore Payton Bock dumped a kill over the Sacramento State block to put NAU at match point.
The Hornets had one last rally in them though and held off five match points to even the score at 24-24, causing NAU to call both of its timeouts during the stretch. The final timeout at 24-all was what the Lumberjacks needed to finish the match as Vander Ploeg dashed any hopes for the visitors by smashing her final two of a match-high 18 kills to seal up the sweep.
"I think we got comfortable and we were expecting them to make the last mistake instead of wanting to get it ourselves," Vander Ploeg said. "It was a wake-up call, but we came back strong and finished the match."
The match was a successful one for the Lumberjacks after the Hornets dealt them a four-set defeat at their home earlier this season.
"I thought we were tougher and we got good service pressure," Murphy said. "We made them a little more uncomfortable, took them out of their game and played at a higher level."
Vander Ploeg's 18 kills led all players in the match while Lofstedt added 10 kills. NAU hit .269 as a team and limited Sacramento State to a .142 percentage in large part to forcing them into 16 errors over the final two sets. Bock's match-high five blocks helped the Lumberjacks hold the advantage at the net and was successful in teaming with freshman Jensen Barton, who totaled four blocks herself. Barton also had 30 assists and was one of four Lumberjacks with at least seven digs led by sophomore Trianna Henry's high of 12.
NAU has a quick turnaround as it will travel to Cedar City, Utah to face Southern Utah on Monday in the first of three road matches next week in three different states. The Lumberjacks also play at Eastern Washington and Portland State next Thursday and Saturday respectively.