FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Together once again, junior Payton Bock and sophomore Lauren Jacobsen could not be happier. After two years apart, the former Hamilton High School teammates and inseparable friends off the court have reunited in Flagstaff and are poised to make an impact on a potent Northern Arizona volleyball team in 2014.
Their friendship runs deep, dating back to Bock's sophomore year and Jacobsen's freshman year at Hamilton, which marked the beginning of not only a successful three years on the court but on a budding sister-like relationship that has grown stronger every day since.
"We're roommates, best friends and we tell each other everything even if it's not something we want to hear," Bock said. "We're always honest with each other and we have each other's backs. She's literally like my other half."
"We're sisters," Jacobsen added. "I've known her so long; I know everything about her. I know how she acts and I know exactly what she's going to say or what she's thinking about. We understand each other and we've never had issues as friends. We've always stayed close."
Both Bock and Jacobsen enjoyed stellar prep careers at Hamilton as they played integral roles in their team finishing third in the state in Bock's senior year. Bock was one of five finalists for ESPN's Gatorade Player of the Year for Arizona as a senior while Jacobsen was an All-State Honorable Mention selection.
While Jacobsen was leading Hamilton to a No. 2 ranking in the state and a state semifinal appearance in her final season in 2012, Bock was making an immediate impact with the Lumberjacks as a college freshman. She set a school record for block assists in a season with 127 and was named the Big Sky Outstanding Freshman in addition to an All-Big Sky First Team selection. At that end of the fall, the possibility that the two would once again team up at NAU excited them both until it did not pan out. Instead, Jacobsen headed to San Jose State.
As fate would have it, Bock and Jacobsen would match up in Jacobsen's opening weekend of play at San Jose State last fall when the Lumberjacks and Spartans squared off at William & Mary's Tribe Invitational. Bock and the Lumberjacks swept Jacobsen and the Spartans in three sets and NAU completed a perfect 3-0 stay in Virginia. That set the Lumberjacks in motion to a 19-11 season ending in the Big Sky Quarterfinals. Meanwhile, San Jose State made the trip back West with a 0-3 start to the season and wound up 8-23 in 2013.
"We beat them so I was happy," Bock joked about their face-off last season. "It was really weird because we look at each other across the net and give each other weird looks. It was weird but it was cool too."
Then fate intertwined a second time – at the expense of an unfortunate situation for Jacobsen. After completing the sand volleyball season in the spring with the Spartans, Jacobsen and her teammates were released from their scholarships following a coaching change. It was at that moment where the pair would have a second chance at reuniting at NAU. With the insistence of head coach Ken Murphy to get her best friend on a visit to campus, Bock knew that all it would take was a text.
The rest was history as Jacobsen soon found a new home in Flagstaff, a short drive up the mountain where the two shared memories in high school. Not only did Bock get her best friend here, but Murphy and the Lumberjacks added a powerful outside hitter who was the Spartans' third-leading attacker with 2.37 kills per set as a freshman last season.
"I love the atmosphere and all the people, and the weather especially," Jacobsen said. "The team has been really accepting and I love everyone here. I made friends really quickly and everyone was very welcoming."
The admiration for their friendship is tangible, but the Chandler, Ariz. duo shares the utmost respect for each other's ability on the court as well.
"She's confident and calm," Bock said of Jacobsen. "She never gets down on herself and she's mentally strong. She brings another attacker to our team that is going to help everyone."
"She's an intense player, kind of goofy but that's Payton," Jacobsen said of Bock. "She kills the ball great, she's a great blocker and she's a great teammate on the court. She's always up and she brings everyone up with her."
This season, Bock and Jacobsen will try to help the Lumberjacks reach the pinnacle – a Big Sky Championship – something they came close to doing at Hamilton with multiple state tournament appearances. Adding a friendship like theirs to an already close-knit team and anything seems in reach for the Lumberjacks this fall, who begin their season this Friday at the Houston Baptist Husky Classic.
"I'm so excited; she's my best friend," Bock said. "I just like playing with her. We grew up together and I just feel more comfortable. It feels like home."