FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An important aspect of any preseason training is getting the fresh faces acclimated within the pre-existing system in place. For the Northern Arizona volleyball team, getting familiar with one another has taken on the utmost importance through the first four fall practices with nearly half of their 2014 roster new to the Lumberjack program.
"We have a lot of new faces so we're working really hard to make sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of our system," said head coach Ken Murphy. "I feel like we're learning fast and made a lot of progress in a short amount of time and I'm optimistic we can stay on that learning curve."
Despite returning nine players, including five starters, from a year ago, the Lumberjacks have used the first few days of preseason to introduce their seven newcomers to a system that was highly successful in 2013. Junior Janae Vander Ploeg headlines this year's Lumberjacks as a returning All-Big Sky First Team selection for a team that finished 19-11 on their way to a fourth-place finish in the conference.
"We're trying to re-establish our identity; we view ourselves as a really strong defensive team and a team that is really powerful at the net," Murphy said. "It's been important to get our newcomers integrated in that philosophy."
Along with Vander Ploeg, NAU also returns senior Sydney Kemper who is aiming to become the first player in program history to be a four-time all-conference honoree. Senior Taylor Stephens and junior Payton Bock are back for the Lumberjacks in the middle as is sophomore Jensen Barton who started 19 matches at setter last season.
As talented as the Lumberjacks are with their returning core, their group of newcomers will only add to the team's depth. Among the seven new 'Jacks are three transfers – redshirt junior Stacia Williams (Cal Poly), junior Jordan Leiter (Central Arizona CC) and sophomore Lauren Jacobsen (San Jose State) – and team chemistry is already an area of strength despite being just a few days into camp.
"Team chemistry has surprisingly been very good," Williams said. "I was at Cal Poly the last three years and I don't think we ever had as much chemistry there as there is here. There is definitely a lot of talent. Coach Murphy has a very good philosophy. It's going to be very beneficial once we all get used to it."
Already off to a strong start, the Lumberjacks will continue to gear up for the 2014 season which begins Friday, Aug. 29 at Houston Baptist's Husky Classic against the host school in Houston, Texas.