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Volleyball Aces Bethune-Cookman to 3-0 Sweep in Home Opener

Sydney Lema
Sydney Lema

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Rolle Activity Center crowd brought the noise and the Northern Arizona volleyball team took care of the rest as the Lumberjacks set yet another school record in a convincing 25-11, 25-13, 25-10 sweep of Bethune-Cookman. The 34 combined points are the fewest allowed by NAU ever, as the 'Jacks lowered the record for the second time this season. The Lumberjacks won their fourth consecutive match and are now 6-2 in 2016.

"One of our strengths is reading the game and anticipating what's next," said head coach Ken Murphy. "Regardless of the competition we play, that's a strength of ours that gives us advantages. We've been working really hard at amping our (service) pressure and it was nice to see how aggressive we were. Early in the match, that had a big influence on the score and we hope that's something we keep building on."

The raucous Lumberjack faithful of 708 – the largest home opening crowd since 2009 – saw the 'Jacks post their 18th straight home match in dominating fashion. NAU's success stemmed from the service line where it recorded a season-high 12 aces with senior Jensen Barton and freshman Sydney Lema contributing three each.

As dominant as NAU was, the opening set started tight with Bethune-Cookman holding a 5-4 edge. Freshman Abby Akin, who hit .700 Friday night, put down her first of seven kills to give NAU the side out and sophomore Jordan Anderson took it from there. Anderson aced the Wildcats on her first turn and proceeded to serve the 'Jacks on a 9-0 run that turned the first stanza upside down. Despite getting just one kill from senior Lauren Jacobsen, the Lumberjacks wound up running with the set and there would be no stopping them in their first match of the season at home.

The Wildcats could not contain Jacobsen for long as she pounded five kills during NAU's most efficient set of the night. In the second set, the Lumberjacks hit .375 and took control early with Barton acing the Wildcats twice during a 5-2 start. Already leading by eight, Jacobsen then took the baton and recorded all five of her set kills in the final eight points.

Keeping with the theme, redshirt freshman Ohiyah Shirley made her collegiate debut to start the third set and immediately served NAU to a 4-0 lead with her first two career aces. The Lumberjacks never trailed in the night's finale as they rotated in their youngsters. Redshirt freshman Victoria Ewalefo had two emphatic kills to put the exclamation point on a final set that featured NAU holding a lead as large as 20-5.

The Lumberjacks posted a team hitting percentage of .319, while the Wildcats found themselves below zero at -.057. NAU held the advantages in kills (36-19), digs (61-47), blocks (7.0-1.0) and aces (12-8) in front of its home crowd for the first time since clinching the Big Sky Tournament Championship last November.

"That was a great opening night crowd," said Murphy, who recorded his 74th victory in his 100th career match as Lumberjack head coach. "It was exciting to play in this gym tonight and our team loves playing in front in them. They feed off their energy and there were times we had to calm ourselves down because (the crowd) was giving us so much, but that's a good problem."

Lema and Akin both started in their first matches at home and excelled. Lema led all players with 10 kills and 15 digs – recording her second double-double of the season – while Akin matched redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey for match-high honors of three blocks to go along with her exceptional offensive night.

"The crowd was really engaging and they were a lot of fun," Lema said. "They contributed to this win. Honestly, I still have adrenaline. It's great to know that everyone supports our program and it was an awesome feeling."

Barton joined Lema in the double-double club with 27 assists and 14 digs. Jacobsen finished with eight kills, while junior Brooke Donnelly and Anderson handled the back line with a combined 17 digs.

The two teams will meet once more on Saturday in the Rolle Activity Center. NAU will host Neon 90's Night with all fans encouraged to attend in their best neon gear. Saturday night's match between the Lumberjacks and Wildcats will start at 7 p.m.