FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Tuesday marks the end of the first week of preseason training for the Northern Arizona volleyball team, and the energy inside the Rolle Activity Center has been high coming off the Lumberjacks' championship season.
The two-a-day practices have been extremely helpful given that head coach Ken Murphy has had to incorporate six newcomers into the fold in addition to two returners who played in just a combined 10 matches last season and three others who redshirted. All told, NAU returns just five letterwinners, but if the first week of training is any indication, the team is coming along at a significant pace.
"We have a younger team and we're getting used to each other," Murphy said. "We're seeing some nice pieces coming together. The great thing is we have a lot of players challenging for positions and there is a lot of competition in the gym. What's become evident in two-a-days is that we're not only getting better playing together, but also competing in groups."
Among the five letterwinners though is a pair of all-conference players in seniors Jensen Barton and Lauren Jacobsen. Barton earned her first career selection to the All-Big Sky First Team last season and is one of just three returning First Teamers in the entire conference. Jacobsen garnered a second team nod. Senior Addy Lofstedt, redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey and sophomore Jordan Anderson all played at least 32 of the 33 matches a year ago.
While NAU is young on experience, the newcomers featuring five freshmen along with junior transfer Brooke Donnelly have integrated themselves seamlessly into the Lumberjacks' systems thus far.
"They've looked really good," said redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson. "I remember when I was a freshman and I was really timid, but they fit right in and they've been working really hard. We've set the bar really high and they're key components to how our practices have run."
Still, NAU's youth was not enough to deter the conference coaches from picking the 'Jacks as the preseason Big Sky favorites. One day after receiving the news, the Lumberjacks have pushed the distinction into their rear view with the focus solely on getting ready for the season opener in 10 days.
"When we first saw (the poll), we all thought it was pretty cool, but we don't pay attention to that," Barton said. "We take it one day at a time and focus on what we can improve. There are a lot of new faces, but we're all meshing like it's Day 39 (of practice)."
"We're trying to get better for tomorrow and keep moving forward," Murphy added. "We're aware that there's a lot of excitement surrounding our program, but we also know that we can't control that. We play every point at practice to try to better, and that's one thing that this team is really adapting. We don't worry about things that are out of our control; we just get in the gym and work really hard."
The Lumberjacks will hold an open intrasquad scrimmage to the public this Saturday, Aug. 20 at 5 p.m. in the Rolle Activity Center. Admission is free for all fans.