CARBONDALE, Ill. – Senior Lauren Jacobsen torched Southern Illinois for a career-high 29 kills and the Northern Arizona volleyball team rallied around each other to pull off an impressive 26-28, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 victory to cap the Saluki Invitational Saturday night. Using a complete team performance, NAU handed Southern Illinois its first loss of the season in a battle between NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago.
"This match was a testament to the leadership and toughness we have in our locker room," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We were tough through the whole match and even though we lost the first set, we were so resilient. We kept fighting the entire time and even when we had a lead in the fourth set, we kept working. That was a huge area of growth and I'm so proud of them."
Jacobsen and senior Jensen Barton earned all-tournament honors as the 'Jacks improved to 3-2 this season, completing a 2-1 stint against an extremely competitive tournament field. Jacobsen hit .339 during the weekend and averaged 5.92 kills and 4.33 digs per set. She totaled 71 kills and 52 digs along with eight blocks. Barton meanwhile recorded 130 assists, 33 digs, 23 kills and 10 blocks while setting the team to a .260 hitting percentage.
NAU seemingly had control in the first set holding an 18-13 lead, but saw its advantage evaporate in the form of a nine-point Southrn Illinois run. The Salukis, ranked No. 17 in the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major poll, found themselves with three set points to close out the opening stanza, yet the Lumberjacks ripped off three straight points on kills by Jacobsen and freshman Abby Akin and an SIU error. Jacobsen's eighth kill of the opening set gave NAU its second set point to close out at 26-25, only for Southern Illinois to score the final three points.
Southern Illinois got out to a quick 7-4 start and led as late as 20-18 as it sought a two-set lead in the match. The Lumberjacks' response came in the form of a three-point surge that ended with redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey and Barton combining for a block and after the Salukis tied the score at 22-all, Barton dumped a kill to put NAU in front for good. She finished the set with a kill that found the back corner, which sent the teams into the intermission tied at one set.
Much like the second set, NAU had to fight from behind early. Unlike the first two sets in which both teams hit for a high percentage, the third set was a slugfest that NAU only seized control late. Three straight points capped by a kill from freshman Sydney Lema had NAU at set point, 24-19, but closing the set was far from easy. Southern Illinois managed to withstand four set points and it took a Jacobsen kill to close it out for the 'Jacks.
After holding off the late Southern Illinois rally, the fourth set was all NAU. Erasing a quick 3-1 deficit, the Lumberjacks rattled off eight of the next nine points – aided by five Saluki attack errors – and NAU was off on the run. The Salukis managed to climb within three points on two occasions, but the Lumberjacks' offensive efficiency hitting a match-high .343 coupled with the Salukis' troubles at .125 was more than enough for NAU to seal the deal.
"Our team played absolutely outstanding tonight," Jacobsen said. "It was a fun vibe on the court, and we had so much energy regardless of what the score was. We clicked really well and there was never any hesitation. No one backed off, and we were really focused which made for a fun game."
The Lumberjacks hit .277 as a team for the match while containing the high octane Saluki offense to only a .191 clip. NAU outblocked Southern Illinois, 11.0-6.0, led by Akin's seven blocks. Barton added five blocks and a trio of 'Jacks – senior Addy Lofstedt, Jacobsen and Dorsey – all had three blocks each.
Jacobsen led NAU offensively with 29 kills on .435 hitting while also collecting her fifth double-double with 13 digs. Once again Barton narrowly missed a triple double with 47 assists, 16 digs and nine kills. Lema chipped in nine kills and sophomore Jordan Anderson posted 12 digs in the impressive team performance.
"Lauren's game has evolved so much in the past year," Murphy said. "She's worked so hard to improve her offense and we're starting to see that. There's no doubt there were times this weekend when we needed big plays and she made them. But we're getting balance and on any given day we're getting multiple kills from different players and that's giving us a boost."
Before returning home, NAU makes a pit stop in Martin, Tenn. for a Labor Day doubleheader on Monday. The Lumberjacks will play UT Martin at 9 a.m. and Alabama A&M at 1 p.m.