Volleyball Hits the Road for Final Week of Regular Season
Opponent: North Dakota (Thursday, Nov. 21/6:00 p.m.)
Location: Grand Forks, N.D.
Live Stats: www.undsports.com
Opponent: Northern Colorado (Saturday, Nov. 23/7:00 p.m.)
Location: Greeley, Colo.
Live Stats: www.uncbears.com
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona volleyball team concludes the regular season this week on the road at North Dakota on Thursday and Northern Colorado on Saturday with a berth in the Big Sky Championships in hand. The Lumberjacks clinched one of the six spots with a victory over Montana last Thursday, which they followed with a victory over Montana State on Senior Night. NAU currently finds itself in a tie for third place holding the tiebreaker over Idaho State entering the final week of the season.
The Lumberjacks were led by sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg in their two wins last week as she made a successful return to the lineup after an injury forced her to miss a match. Vander Ploeg posted two double-doubles and averaged 4.12 kills and 3.75 digs per set. Sophomore Payton Bock also had a strong weekend averaging 3.00 kills per set while hitting .356 while junior Sydney Kemper (11 kills, 11 digs versus Montana) and junior Taylor Stephens (12 kills, six blocks, .688 hitting percentage versus Montana State) had solid matches as well. Freshman Jensen Barton was masterful in running the offense, totaling 93 assists, while sophomore Trianna Henry totaled 34 digs defensively.
Last Time Out: The Lumberjacks saw their rally from a 2-0 deficit fall short to Northern Colorado in the teams' first meeting in Flagstaff last month as they eventually fell in five sets. After dropping the first two games, NAU fought back to take the third and fourth games. However, the Bears strung together three straight points to break a 9-9 tie in the fifth set, which proved to be the final margin. UNC had four players with double-digit kills while sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg led the Lumberjacks with 18 kills. NAU outblocked Northern Colorado by a 17.0-10.0 margin, equaling its season-high of blocks. Junior Taylor Stephens led the way with a career-high nine blocks.
NAU was able to respond in its following match, handing North Dakota its first conference loss in three sets. UND had entered the match 9-0, but was held to a .160 clip. The Lumberjacks ran a highly efficient offense hitting .299 and set the tone early by hitting .500 in the first set. Vander Ploeg and junior Sydney Kemper each totaled 10 kills while freshman Addy Lofstedt chipped in nine kills on a .562 hitting percentage. For the second straight match, NAU was dominant on the block totaling 12.0 blocks as a team, eight of the solo variety. Stephens led the Lumberjacks with six total blocks, four solo.
Coach Ken Murphy Quote for the Week: "We wanted to make sure we were in the conference tournament but now we want to work on the things that help us to get better when that time comes. Our team is grasping onto the things that make us successful like our energy level and the way we need to communicate on the court. We have two more opportunities to get better before the tournament."
About North Dakota (20-10, 15-3 BSC): North Dakota rebounded from a tough five-set loss at Portland State last week by notching its 20th victory of the season in a sweep of Eastern Washington. UND returns home this week where it has lost just one conference match this season tied atop the Big Sky standings with Portland State at 15-3.
North Dakota, the conference leader in hitting percentage, continues to be paced by senior Lisa Parlich, the Big Sky's leading hitter at .375, although she hit just .222 against NAU earlier this season. Senior Ronni Munkeby is fourth at .317 and is also fifth in kills at 3.19 per set. Munkeby led UND with 16 kills last month in Flagstaff. Parlich and Munkeby also lead a strong UND block that is tied with NAU with a conference-best 2.64 blocks per set, as they rank fourth and eighth respectively in the conference in the category.
About Northern Colorado (12-16, 8-10 BSC): Northern Colorado enters the final week of the season fighting for the sixth and final spot in the Big Sky Championships. The Bears earned a hard-fought 3-2 win at Eastern Washington to begin last week, but suffered a three-set loss to Portland State. They are one game behind Sacramento State for sixth with two matches to play.
The Bears had four players with double-digit kills in their win over the Lumberjacks led by sophomore Kendra Cunningham, who had 19. Cunningham is ninth in the Big Sky with an average of 3.02 kills per set. Juniors Brianna Strong and Andrea Spaustat, third and sixth respectively in the Big Sky in hitting percentage, also had strong matches against the Lumberjacks. Spaustat had 18 kills with a .382 hitting percentage and three blocks while Strong added 14 kills with a .323 hitting percentage in addition to four blocks.
Headed to the Postseason: The Lumberjacks secured a spot in the Big Sky Championships tournament for the second year in a row with their victory over Montana. It will be the program's 16th appearance in the conference tournament.
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