Volleyball Heads to Portland With Big Sky Title Aspirations
Opponent: Montana (Friday, Nov. 29/1:05 p.m.)
Location: Portland, Ore.
Live Stats: www.goviks.com
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Two losses to close out the regular season may not have been the ending the Northern Arizona volleyball team (19-10, 13-7 Big Sky) would have preferred, but the Lumberjacks turn their attentions to the Big Sky Championships hungry for a title. In search of just their second Big Sky championship, the No. 4 seeded Lumberjacks begin their chase on Friday at 1:05 p.m. with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 5 Montana. A win would set up a semifinal date with host and top-seeded Portland State Friday night at 8 p.m. before a potential championship match on Saturday at 8 p.m.
The Lumberjacks posted victories in both of their season matches against the Grizzlies. On Oct. 12 in Missoula, NAU won in four sets, taking the last three after dropping the first. Junior Sydney Kemper posted a match-high 19 kills while hitting .361. Sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg and freshman Addy Lofstedt each added 13 kills as the Lumberjacks hit .313 as a team. NAU totaled 14.0 blocks as three Lumberjacks had at least six blocks.
NAU followed that with a win at home on Nov. 14, once again winning in four sets. Although the Lumberjacks hit only .216, they had three players with double-digit kills with Vander Ploeg posting a match-high 17. Sophomore Payton Bock had 12 kills and Kemper had 11 kills. Vander Ploeg and Kemper both posted double-doubles with Vander Ploeg totaling a career-high 18 digs. Lofstedt equaled her career-high with five blocks.
Against the Rest of the Field: The Lumberjacks were a combined 6-4 against the five other tournament teams during the regular season. NAU swept the season matches against Idaho State in addition to Montana. The Lumberjacks split with both North Dakota and Portland State as each team won on their home courts. Northern Colorado was the only team to defeat NAU twice, with both of the Lumberjacks' losses coming in five sets.
Coach Ken Murphy Quote for the Week: "We know we didn't play our best volleyball last weekend but our team is approaching this week the right way. They have confidence in what we're doing and they believe they can have success in all of the potential matchups ahead of us. I don't think they're going to look back because they've learned lessons from last weekend. We don't doubt ourselves. If we play with confidence and execute our systems, there's every reason we should expect success."
About Montana (15-14, 12-8 BSC): The Grizzlies finished the regular season with three straight victories since they lost to the Lumberjacks in Flagstaff on Nov. 14. That loss is UM's only defeat in its last five matches to close the season as it finished strong to clinch the fifth seed in the Big Sky Championship.
Senior Kayla Reno averaged 3.62 kills per set in the two meetings this season against the Lumberjacks. Reno is the Grizzlies' top attacker, averaging 3.36 kills per set for the season which ranks fourth in the conference. Fellow senior Brooke Bray, the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week, averaged 2.38 kills per set versus NAU and is seventh in the conference in hitting percentage (.280). Bray also compiled nine blocks in the two head-to-head meetings and she leads the Big Sky with 1.30 blocks per set. UM hit just .153 against NAU and averaged just over two blocks per set as compared to its season average of 2.61 blocks per set, which is second in the conference.
Championship History: The Lumberjacks are headed to the Big Sky Championships for the second year in a row after missing out on the postseason in four consecutive seasons from 2008-11. It will be the program's 16th appearance in the conference tournament.
Last season, the Lumberjacks entered the tournament as the third seed and proceeded to sweep No. 6 Montana State in the quarterfinal before falling to No. 2 Idaho State, 3-1, in the semis. The quarterfinal win over Montana State was NAU's first Big Sky Championship victory since 1999, the year of the Lumberjacks' lone conference championship. NAU is 2-1 all-time versus Montana in the conference tournament. They last met in 1999 in the quarterfinal round, where the Lumberjacks defeated the Grizzlies in four sets. NAU has an all-time Big Sky Championship record of 8-14.
Quest for 20: The Lumberjacks are one win shy of reaching 20 wins in a season for just the fourth time in program history. After record 24 victories a year ago, this would be the first time in school history that the Lumberjacks hit 20 wins two consecutive years. NAU has recorded 20 or more wins in 1982, 1991 and 2012.
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