PORTLAND, Ore. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team furiously rallied back from a 2-0 deficit but came up short in their comeback to advance to the Big Sky Championship semifinals. Montana held on for a five-set win, 25-16, 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 15-10, in the face of the Lumberjacks' comeback bid Saturday afternoon at the Peter W. Stott Center.
"We're crushed because we had real expectations for this weekend," said head coach Ken Murphy. "The disappointing thing is that we had the idea that we would be playing our best volleyball this weekend. I don't think we were pressing, but we weren't able to do that today."
The Lumberjacks came out of the gates hot, riding the arm of sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg. Vander Ploeg hammered down three kills to help NAU out to a 5-2 lead, but a 4-0 UM run swung the momentum in the Grizzlies' favor. Both teams played even until a 6-2 Grizzly spurt snapped an 8-8 tie for good. A kill by freshman Addy Lofstedt got the Lumberjacks within four at 19-15, but Montana finished with a flurry by taking six of the seven points from there for the early 1-0 lead.
Another fast start by NAU was nullified by Montana in the second though and the teams found themselves knotted up at 7-7 before a crucial UM run. Four straight points turned the tide in the Grizzlies' favor, although the Lumberjacks trailed only by one at 12-11 following sophomore Payton Bock's fifth kill of the set. NAU tried to climb out of its deficit but Montana maintained a steady lead throughout until one final Lumberjack run. Down 23-18, a 4-0 run capped by a solo block and then a kill by Vander Ploeg got NAU within one. Forced to call its second timeout in as many points, Montana halted NAU's rally in its tracks and finished with the final two points of the set.
With their season in the balance, the Lumberjacks went on a set-changing run behind on the scoreboard in the third set. Down 9-6, a kill by Bock sent senior Lexie Schroeder to the service line and started a crucial 7-0 run. Vander Ploeg converted on five kills during the run and Schroeder added a service ace that gave the Lumberjacks a much-needed four-point lead. Montana got within one at 19-18, but NAU refused to relinquish its lead. A block by Bock and junior Erin Truett put the Lumberjacks back out by three at 21-18 and Bock finished the set with a dump shot over the UM block to extend the match.
The fourth set was a battle throughout as the two teams were knotted up at 17-17 before the Lumberjacks broke out in front for good. Freshman Addy Lofstedt's kill snapped the 10th and final tie of the set and spearheaded three straight NAU points. After Montana got within 22-20, Truett responded with a kill and a service ace to put the Lumberjacks at set point. Vander Ploeg then slammed her 25th kill of the match off the UM block to send the match to a fifth and deciding set.
The Grizzlies raced out to a 7-3 lead to open the fifth set, but the Lumberjacks answered with four points to tie the score at 7-7. After Vander Ploeg converted on a kill, she followed two straight service aces to force a UM timeout. Out of the timeout, junior Taylor Stephens placed a free ball in the back corner to even the score. Montana responded with three points, but Lofstedt brought the Lumberjacks within one at 10-9. That would be the closest NAU would get the rest of the way though, as the Grizzlies closed with three straight points with NAU trailing 12-10 to advance to the semifinals.
Montana outhit NAU, .269-.219, and held a slight advantage in blocks (15.0-13.0) and digs (89-82).
Vander Ploeg capped off her sophomore season with a career-high 27 kills to lead all players on Saturday. Vander Ploeg hit .353 for the match and notched her eighth double-double of the season with 14 digs in addition to a career-high tying five blocks. Bock added a season-high 16 kills on .452 hitting and also contributed five blocks. Sophomore Trianna Henry led four Lumberjacks in double-digit digs with 23.
The match was the final of the careers for Schroeder and Truett. Schroeder finished with a career-high 19 digs and Truett handed out 36 assists posted a career-high tying five blocks.
The Lumberjacks conclude the 2013 season at 19-11 and matched the fourth-most wins in school history. Their 43 wins over the last two seasons is the most in a two-year span in program history.