NAU Falls to UCF in Four Sets, to Play Southern Illinois This Evening

Abby Akin (Photo by Mike Robertson)
Abby Akin (Photo by Mike Robertson)

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Despite an outstanding all-around effort, the Northern Arizona volleyball team saw the third and fourth sets slip away from them late in a 19-25, 25-16, 25-23, 25-22 loss to Central Florida Saturday morning. NAU is now 2-2 and has split its first two matches of the Saluki Invitational heading into tonight's tournament finale against host Southern Illinois at 5 p.m.

"It was an extremely tight match," said head coach Ken Murphy. "There were times when we struggled to get into our flow, but I was really impressed with the level of skill we displayed today. We controlled most of the statistical portions of the match, but we didn't get into the flow that we wanted to. Today's match slipped away, but I know we grew a lot from it."

NAU managed to outhit UCF, .212-.199, with an 11.0-8.0 block advantage playing a huge role. Freshman Abby Akin totaled 11 blocks, and became the first Lumberjack to record double-digit blocks in a match since Payton Bock did so at Montana State last season. Ten of Akin's 11 blocks were assisted, which matched the second-highest total in school history for a four-set match.

"Abby's block was tremendous," Murphy said. "UCF was moving its hitters around and she did a really good job moving. For sure, this is the best match she's had so far and we know she can grow even more."

The Lumberjacks started the match on fire, hitting their best percentage of the morning to claim the opener. NAU hit .297 in the first set and a flurry of kills – two from senior Lauren Jacobsen and one from senior Jensen Barton – was part of a decisive 5-0 run that put the 'Jacks ahead 22-16 late in the set. Akin then put the stamp on the opening stanza with a block – her fourth in the set – and the final kill to provide NAU with a 1-0 lead in the match.

After being kept at bay offensively the set prior, the Knights hit .244 to even the match in the second. Despite five ties before either team hit 10 points, the second set was controlled by Central Florida with a commanding 10-4 run that all but put NAU away at 19-13.

Still, the Lumberjacks responded in the third set and led 16-13 following a kill from redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson. After the teams exchanged points, UCF seized control with a 7-0 run to put the Knights in front, 21-17. The Lumberjacks refused to go quietly though as redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey forced a UCF timeout with back-to-back aces, before Akin and Barton combined for a block which brought NAU within 23-22. NAU held off one set point following a Jacobsen kill at 24-23, but the Central Florida clinched on the ensuing point.

The Knights appeared to have the fourth set right where they wanted it up 9-4, but junior Brooke Donnelly served NAU back in the game with a five-point run that tied the set. The teams jostled for position – there were 11 ties in the fourth set alone – until freshman Sydney Lema's kill gave NAU an 18-16 edge. The lead would be the Lumberjacks' last though as the Knights followed with a 5-0 surge. Like the third set, NAU was able to withstand one match point before the Knights wrapped up the match on a Lumberjack error.

Jacobsen led the team in kills with 16 and also totaled a career-high 20 digs. It marked her fourth double-double in as many matches this season, while she also added four blocks. Barton joined her with 34 assists and 10 digs to record her second double-double. Sophomore Jordan Anderson tallied 17 digs, while Lema also reached double-figure digs with 11.

Saturday evening's match against Southern Illinois can be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Watch the match online starting at approximately 5 p.m. Arizona time here.