FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – In front of a crowd of 602, the second-highest home attendance this season, the Northern Arizona volleyball team sent their two seniors – Lexie Schroeder and Erin Truett – out with a win in their final home match. The Lumberjacks clicked on all cylinders and wrapped up their home schedule in style defeating Montana State, 24-26, 25-19, 25-21, 25-17. NAU (19-8, 13-5 Big Sky) finished with an 11-2 record at the Rolle Activity Center, equaling the program-best for home victories in a season.
"We played really well and I thought Montana State played really well also," said head coach Ken Murphy. "The environment in our gym was electric and we came out fired up. It was a high-level match and both teams executed well. I'm proud that we were able to remain steady and pull away especially in sets three and four."
Despite hitting an incredible .542 in the first set, the Lumberjacks had the opening set stolen by them in large part because the Bobcats hit .359 themselves. NAU held the lead throughout until Montana State used two straight service aces to take its first lead at 16-15. The teams essentially traded points until junior Taylor Stephens put the Lumberjacks at set point with a kill at 24-23. They failed to close out the set though as the Bobcats claimed the next three points to negate NAU's outstanding offensive showing.
NAU broke an early 3-3 tie in the second set and took control as it never trailed. A 4-0 run pushed the Lumberjacks' lead out to 11-6 and they led by as many as five the rest of the way. A kill by junior Sydney Kemper gave NAU an eight point lead at 20-12, the first of three eight-point advantages the team enjoyed. The Lumberjacks evened the match at one set each on Kennedie Clute's attack error, the Bobcats' 11th error of the set, and the second game proved to be the boost they needed.
Although Montana State held the early advantage after the intermission, the Lumberjacks quickly erased their deficit with four consecutive points with Stephens at the service line. The spurt put NAU in front 8-6 and it remained in front until Montana State evened the score at 15-all. Two straight Bobcat errors plus a kill by freshman Addy Lofstedt and a Kemper service ace snapped the tie only for Montana State to bring the set to a stalemate again, this time at 20-20. The Lumberjacks had one last run in them, stringing together four straight points for the third time in the game, and it proved to be enough. A kill by Stephens wrapped up the set and sent NAU into the fourth game ahead 2-1.
The Lumberjacks ended the match almost as hot as they started as they hit .519 in the fourth set. Their strong offensive efforts would not go to waste as they seized control with a 7-2 run, with six of those points coming off kills, that turned a 7-6 deficit into a 13-9 lead they would not give back. Although the Bobcats got as close as 18-14 late, NAU dashed any hopes of a comeback with a corresponding 5-1 run to extend its lead back out to 23-15 before closing out the victory.
NAU hit .362 for the match, its second-best hitting percentage of the season and a Rolle Activity Center record for a four-set match, and also was strong defensively utilizing an 11.0-3.0 block advantage to force MSU into a .190 clip. The Lumberjacks committed just 10 attack errors as compared to 30 by the Bobcats.
Sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg led three Lumberjacks in double-digit kills with 16 while hitting .295. She also posted 12 digs for her second consecutive double-double and sixth of the season. NAU got great production from its middle blockers as Stephens and sophomore Payton Bock both added 12 kills. They were extremely efficient in doing so with Stephens hitting .688, the fifth-best percentage for a four-set match in school history, and Bock hitting a season-best .526. Stephens also had a match-high six blocks while freshman Jensen Barton handed out 48 assists and sophomore Trianna Henry led the team with 15 digs.
"The crowd boosted our energy level and helped us during the long rallies," Stephens said. "It was awesome to win tonight for (Schroeder and Truett). I know it's bittersweet for them since it's their last home match but we have a lot of matches ahead of us."
NAU wraps up the regular season at North Dakota next Thursday and at Northern Colorado two nights later. The Lumberjacks have a Big Sky tournament berth wrapped up and will enter the final week of the regular season in a tie for third place with the tiebreaking edge over Idaho State.