FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team put its home win streak on the line against perennial Big Sky power Idaho State on Thursday night, and despite an up-and-down performance at times, the Lumberjacks sent another opponent packing out of the Rolle Activity Center. NAU notched its 20th consecutive home victory – and its season-best sixth straight win overall – with a 25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-17 triumph in a rematch of the 2015 Big Sky tournament finale.
"We were never completely together in all the things we were doing tonight," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We had to fight for everything and Idaho State did a great job putting pressure on us and making us uncomfortable. I was so happy with the way we were able to respond on a night like this and I'm proud of them for not trying to do more, but just doing what we do and settle in."
Despite coming away winless in their opening weekend of conference play, the Bengals gave their best shot and more with the 'Jacks (13-3, 3-0 Big Sky) having to withstand a powerful offensive effort. With the two teams splitting the first two sets, the Lumberjacks reverted back to their identity of tough service pressure to ultimately gain control – and the match. In the final two sets, NAU accumulated six of its eight aces with redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey accounting for all three of her aces for the night and sophomore Jordan Anderson notching two of her career-high tying three.
"Our service pressure in the third and fourth set was so much better and that made a big difference," Murphy said. "They outhit us in the third set, but our service made the difference. That makes me proud to know that we can have that identity and that our team can recognize that strength."
Senior Lauren Jacobsen came out guns blazing, blitzing the Bengals for three kills on the first three points of the match to give NAU a lead it would not relinquish. However, despite leading throughout the entire opening game – by as many as five points late at 20-15 following another Jacobsen kill – the Lumberjacks never seemed to be in complete control. Still, on its third set point, NAU was able to close out on an ISU service error with Jacobsen and freshman Sydney Lema leading the way with five kills apiece.
The Bengals would snag the second set, despite letting an early lead slip away. Idaho State jumped out to a 4-1 lead that NAU erased and tied at 16-all following a block by Dorsey and Lema. The Bengals proceeded to then take seven of the next nine points to regain a sizeable 23-18 lead before holding off a similar late run, this time by NAU, to even the match going into the intermission.
After an uneven performance in the first two sets, NAU got the boost it needed via Dorsey at the service line to start the third game. Dorsey, fourth in the country in aces entering Thursday's match, aced the Bengals twice during a set-opening 7-1 run that proved to be critical. Facing a large deficit, Idaho State made two large runs, the first of which allowed it to close to 13-11. Jacobsen responded with a kill, which proceeded Dorsey's third ace of the set to kickstart NAU once again. Yet, ISU's second surge came with NAU leading 19-13 and the Bengals got within one point at 22-21 before committing two service errors that allowed the 'Jacks to take three of the final four points.
Picking up the third set and with a 2-1 match lead in hand, NAU posted its best set in the fourth hitting .290 and riding Jacobsen's arm to victory. Jacobsen collected six of her match-high 20 kills in the final set as the Lumberjacks posted their second wire-to-wire set win of the night. The set was actually close with NAU clinging to a slim 16-13 advantage, before Dorsey and senior Jensen Barton combined for a block that started a 6-0 run. During the essential match-clinching run, Dorsey added another solo block as she totaled three of her five stuffs in the fourth set.
"The first two sets felt a little slow for us to get into a groove," said freshman Abby Akin, who tallied seven kills and equaled Dorsey for match-high honors with five blocks. "We knew we needed to pick it up and we did especially in the fourth set. There are a lot of ways we can still improve, but if we can beat a team like Idaho State, we can beat a lot of teams in the future at our best."
NAU outhit Idaho State, .246-.183, and held advantages in blocks (10.0-6.0), digs (65-61) and aces (8-3) despite the Bengals edging out the 'Jacks in the kills column by two (54-52).
Jacobsen (20 kills, 10 digs) and Lema (10 kills, 16 digs) both picked up double-doubles, while Anderson led the team with 21 digs in her third career 20-dig match. Barton handed out 45 assists and also recorded seven digs and three blocks.
NAU closes out the weekend on Saturday versus Weber State at 3 p.m. in the Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks will host the Wildcats, who defeated Southern Utah on Thursday in five sets, on "Blue Out at the Beach" day. The first 250 fans will receive a blue and gold lei to fit the theme. All NAU faculty and staff will receive a discounted $3 ticket on Faculty Appreciation Day.