CARBONDALE, Ill. – Up 21-18 in the third set with an opportunity to sweep, the Northern Arizona volleyball team allowed Western Michigan to extend the match. Facing a similar situation in the fourth set, the Lumberjacks sealed the deal on Friday. Behind a career-high 26 kills from senior Lauren Jacobsen, the Lumberjacks started off the Saluki Invitational in a big way, halting the Broncos in their tracks, 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 25-21.
"I was super impressed with our perseverance and how hard we fought for this one today," said head coach Ken Murphy. "There were a lot of long rallies and tough situations; there were a couple of flat moments that we had to fight through, so this was a really great win against a great opponent."
NAU improved to 2-1 this season in large part due to the performances of several Lumberjacks. In addition to her career-offensive night, Jacobsen also equaled her career-high of 19 digs to go along with two aces on her way to her third straight double-double to start the season. Senior Jensen Barton barely missed a triple-double, totaling 49 assists, eight kills, seven digs and a team-high three aces.
Senior Addy Lofstedt (11 kills on .333 hitting) and redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey (six kills, four blocks and two aces) continued their strong starts to the 2016 season, while sophomore Jordan Anderson recorded a career-high 24 digs.
The first set was just a two-point difference with NAU leading 16-14 midway through before the Lumberjacks used a three-point surge capped by a Lofstedt kill. The quick strike was the difference in the set, as NAU claimed a rugged and defensive first set in which both teams combined for 60 digs.
The Lumberjacks broke through offensively in the second set to take a 2-0 lead behind the arms of Jacobsen and Lofstedt. In the second set alone, the senior pair combined for 12 kills as the 'Jacks hit .409. Despite NAU's offensive efficiency, the Lumberjacks' lead was just one at 14-13 before they pulled away. Freshman Abby Akin ignited a set-changing 5-0 run with a kill that shifted the momentum fully in NAU's favor.
Although NAU jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third, Western Michigan had no plans of being swept as it responded with an extended run that put the Broncos in front, 15-9. The see-saw nature of the set turned towards the Lumberjacks as Jacobsen aced the Broncos twice during a 6-0 run that gave them a 21-18 lead. The lead did not last for long though with Western Michigan claiming the final seven points to force play on.
"I told them that adversity is good for us," Murphy said. "(The end of the third set) was a really good opportunity for us to experience a flat time in the match and learn how to regain control to come back from it. I was really happy to see our team play well in the fourth set. We got better as the match went on, and that's all we ask of ourselves."
The adversity carried into the fourth set as NAU once again faced an early deficit of 7-3. It was not until the ninth tie score of the final period at 18-18 that the Lumberjacks were able to separate themselves. Freshman Sydney Lema broke the final stalemate with a kill and redshirt freshman Hannah Cherry followed with a pair of tough serves that resulted in a pair of Bronco errors. Unlike the third set though, NAU held off Western Michigan with Jacobsen's final two of nine fourth-set kills wrapping up the match.
NAU finished the match with statistical advantages in every category including hitting .286 as a team following a slow start. As well as Barton ran the offense, the Lumberjacks were equally impressive defensively with four players registering double-digit digs with Lema (12) and junior Brooke Donnelly (10) posting their highest totals of their young NAU careers.
The Lumberjacks look to carry the momentum into Saturday when they play Central Florida at 8 a.m. and host Southern Illinois at 5 p.m. Both times are local to Flagstaff.