CHENEY, Wash. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team battled through a feisty Eastern Washington squad Thursday night to successfully bounce back from its loss on Monday to sweep the Eagles, 25-20, 25-22, 26-24. With the win, the Lumberjacks picked up their fifth victory in their last six matches and saw their record move to 17-7 overall, 11-4 in Big Sky play.
"We were focused on having the energy level we needed to have the success that we wanted," said head coach Ken Murphy. "Eastern Washington played really good, but we were resilient and we made a lot of progress as a team tonight."
While a slow start contributed to NAU's loss at Southern Utah three nights ago, the Lumberjacks got off on the right foot by winning six of the first eight points Thursday night. The Eagles got back into the match and took a one-point lead twice before the teams found themselves tied up at 16-16 after EWU rolled off three straight points. The Lumberjacks answered with a key stretch of three straight kills, one by sophomore Payton Bock and two by sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg, to seize the lead back for the final time in the first set. That was enough to give NAU the separation it needed as junior Sydney Kemper's fifth kill on five swings capped off a first set victory.
As they did to open the match, the Lumberjacks jumped out to an early lead in the second game as they led 6-1 following a service ace from freshman Jensen Barton. But Eastern Washington closed the gap once again, getting within 13-12 before the Lumberjacks got a pivotal two straight points to lead 15-12. That would prove to be important as the teams traded off the next 13 consecutive points, which allowed NAU to maintain a steady advantage. After NAU's lead was cut to 21-20, another late spurt by the Lumberjacks put the set out of reach as junior Taylor Stephens' ace put them at set point, 24-20, before they wrapped it up off a block by Bock and freshman Addy Lofstedt.
NAU had to play catch up in the third set as it was Eastern Washington that gained the early advantage leading as much as 10-5. Utilizing a 6-2 run, the Lumberjacks drew even on the scoreboard at 15-15 and eventually took an 18-17 lead after Stephens and Kemper combined for a block. That lead would hold and NAU stepped to the service line to serve for the match after sophomore Trianna Henry converted on a kill, her first of the season, gave the Lumberjacks a 24-21 edge. The Eagles had one final run in them to extend the match though as they forced an NAU timeout after tying it at 24-all, but the Lumberjacks finished the sweep off with a tandem block by Vander Ploeg and Stephens and a Kemper kill.
The Lumberjacks out hit the Eagles, .233-.143, as the Eagles failed to hit above .200 in any of the three sets. Vander Ploeg led the way with a match-high 17 kills. Kemper finished with her second consecutive double-double and fourth of the year with 11 kills and a career-high 15 digs, which led all players. She was one of three Lumberjacks with double-digit digs as Henry (11) and senior Lexie Schroeder (10) joined her. NAU also outblocked Eastern Washington by an 11.0-8.0 margin and were led by Bock's six blocks while Barton and Stephens each had four to their name. Barton also handed out 37 assists.
NAU wraps up its three-match road trip on Saturday at Portland State at 8 p.m. Flagstaff time. The Vikings are one-game ahead of the Lumberjacks for second place in the conference.