GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team absolutely dominated at times, and showed grit when they needed to in sweeping Portland State, 25-18, 25-10, 25-22, in their first match of the Big Sky Championships. NAU (23-7) will next meet Sacramento State in Friday's first semifinal at 3:30 p.m. Arizona time.
"The best thing was our fight throughout the entire match," said head coach Ken Murphy. "Each set was a little different and a good test for us. We had a lot of good things going for us in the first two sets and I was proud of the way we kept pushing without thinking about the score. Portland State responded in the third set especially on defense and pushed us, but we accepted that and kept working through and that's a test to our maturity."
The Lumberjacks hit .284 in Thursday's sweep and used 11.0 team blocks to hold the Vikings to only .064 hitting all afternoon. NAU did not get blocked once in the match and was led offensively by senior Lauren Jacobsen and freshman Abby Akin who notched 11 and 10 kills respectively.
Jacobsen got the 'Jacks off on the right foot with three kills in the first four points, then NAU broke free with a 7-1 run midway through to take the opening game. Aces from redshirt freshman Hannah Cherry and sophomore Jordan Anderson along with two blocks by redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey highlighted the run that broke an 11-11 tie. NAU hit .333 to open the match.
The Lumberjack train continued right into the second set with senior Jensen Barton serving – quite literally – as the conductor. An early 3-3 tie would be no longer after Barton ripped three aces during a set-altering 8-0 NAU run that put Portland State in the hole. The Lumberjacks kept going all the way into the intermission with Jacobsen totaling five kills in the set and NAU hitting .407. Meanwhile, the Vikings were limited to zero hitting percentage.
Portland State was determined to not go down without a fight with its season on the line and pushed NAU to the limits in the third set – which featured 13 ties and six lead changes. With the Lumberjacks leading 15-12, the Vikings used a 4-0 run to surge in front. The PSU lead remained at one, 19-18, before two Jacobsen kills and a Dorsey ace put NAU ahead for good. Leading 23-22, Akin and senior Addy Lofstedt terminated kills on the final two points to wrap up the match.
Barton (27 assists, 10 digs) and Jacobsen (11 kills, 10 digs) both totaled double-doubles and each added three blocks to their line. Barton also recorded a season-high four aces as part of NAU's service onslaught on Portland State. The Lumberjacks tallied nine aces as a team.
Junior Brooke Donnelly and freshman Sydney Lema joined Barton and Jacobsen with 10 digs each, while Akin, Dorsey and Lofstedt all totaled four blocks. Redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson was third on the team with seven kills.
After needing to rally from a 2-1 deficit to prevail in five sets the last time these two teams met, NAU showed its muscle on Thursday in its first win-or-go home test of the tournament.
"Our consistency point-to-point was the best we've played this year," Murphy said. "We hope to build on our maximum intensity and focus we showed today."
The No. 3 seed Lumberjacks and the No. 2 seed Hornets will play an important rubber match on Friday in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center with a date in the championship match on the line. Both teams swept each other during the regular season on their home court.