OGDEN, Utah – On the eve of the Big Sky Championships, the Northern Arizona volleyball team placed two players on the All-Big Sky teams on Thursday as voted on by the conference's head coaches. Sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg was selected to the All-Big Sky first team while junior Sydney Kemper was named an All-Big Sky second team selection, giving the Lumberjacks multiple all-conference players for the third consecutive year.
"Because our team is so good at focusing on the goals of the entire program and working hard for each other, it's often hard to pick out individual performances," said head coach Ken Murphy. "But our program is proud of Janae and Sydney and we're happy that the coaches in the conference respect the way they have performed this year."
Vander Ploeg, an All-Big Sky honorable mention selection a year ago, was voted as a member of the six-player first team after a sensational sophomore season. The Colorado Springs, Colo. native led the Lumberjacks in kills with 3.49 per set, which ranks third in the Big Sky. Vander Ploeg also ranked second on the team with 22 service aces and third in dig average at 2.52 per set. She also ranked third with 14 of her 51 total blocks being of the solo variety.
In her second season, she raised her kills and digs average from 3.16 and 2.12 respectively from her freshman campaign while also increasing her hitting percentage from .227 to .234 this season. Vander Ploeg has also posted double-doubles in each of her last three matches en route to a team-best total of seven. She has recorded 20 matches with at least 10 kills and eight matches with at least 10 digs.
"I think Janae is one of the top players in our conference," Murphy said. "She's definitely one of the top outside hitters in the conference, especially from the standpoint that she has a complete game. She efficient in killing the ball, but she's also a good blocker and defender and plays the entire game at a high level."
Kemper received second team honors in her first season on the outside after earning two All-Big Sky honorable mention selections as a middle blocker during her first two years. The Albuquerque, N.M. product made the transition to right side hitter this season and became just the eighth player in school history to earn three all-conference honors. She ranked behind Vander Ploeg in kills, registering a career high 2.73 kills per set while hitting .235. Kemper also led the team with 23 service aces and was third with 77 total blocks.
Playing all six rotations for the first time in her career, Kemper was stellar in the back row. She totaled 222 digs and was fourth on the team with 2.11 digs per set after totaling a combined 98 digs through her first two seasons. Kemper tallied six double-doubles this season and after not posting more than five digs in any match prior to this season, she had nine matches of at least 10 digs this year.
"Adjusting to a new position was a big challenge for her, but for Sydney to make as much improvement as she did and get to the position where the conference recognizes her contributions to our team is really amazing," Murphy said. "It speaks to how hard she works, how hard she competes and how big of an impact she has in matches."
The Lumberjack volleyball team will compete at the Big Sky Championships in Portland, Ore. beginning Friday at 1 p.m. Flagstaff time. The No. 4 Lumberjacks will take on No. 5 Montana in the quarterfinals as they begin their chase of the program's second-ever Big Sky title.