GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senior Lauren Jacobsen was not about to let the Northern Arizona volleyball team head to a fifth set, and with three final emphatic kills she propelled the Lumberjacks to their second straight Big Sky Tournament finale. No. 3 NAU overcame a first set loss and knocked off No. 2 Sacramento State in Friday's semifinal, 20-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-23, and improved to 24-7 overall this season.
"Coach told us to relax and do what we do," Jacobsen said of head coach Ken Murphy's message at the final timeout. "He wanted us to make sure our block was tight. Jensen (Barton) had some amazing sets even when we were out of system, and our defense was insane. The last kill was in a rally, we had a great dig and that allowed me to get a good gap in the block and hit away."
NAU and Sacramento State split the season series – each winning on its home court in straight sets – and the semifinal lived up the billing. The tension was high in the fourth set with the lead being exchanged five times, but Jacobsen put the exclamation point on the season rubber match between the two teams. After Sacramento State erased a 20-17 NAU lead and moved in front 23-22, Jacobsen recorded her final three of a match-high 18 kills to wrap up the match in succession. She also added 21 digs for her 22nd double-double of the season.
The fourth set began in milestone fashion for redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey as she ripped consecutive aces to bring her season total to 63 – a new NAU single season record. The Hornets then took a 12-9 lead back and until Lofstedt single handedly brought NAU back. With three kills during a 5-0 run she gave the 'Jacks their 20-17 lead, which only set up the late set dramatics.
Lofstedt finished behind Jacobsen with 11 kills on the attack on a blistering .500 clip as along with senior Jensen Barton, NAU's three leaders led the way to victory. Barton recorded an incredible stat line of 45 assists, nine digs, seven blocks and six kills while setting NAU to a .260 hitting percentage for the match.
"Jensen and Lauren started this match ready to go and they led us so well the whole match," Murphy said. "I was so proud of Addy for improving as the match went on and taking what Sac State was giving her. She blocked and hit so well in the last set and it started at the end of the third set."
NAU owned a commanding 14.0-3.0 block advantage in the match which kept the high octane Hornets in check. The Lumberjacks got their block on from the get-go with Barton and Dorsey leading an NAU blocking effort that totaled 6.0 stuffs. Despite that, it was Sacramento State who gained the early advantage via a 5-0 run that broke an 8-8 tie.
After struggling to kill the ball in the opener at .071, the Lumberjacks got their offense in sync to even the match, recording 17 kills with a .421 hitting percentage in the second set. Jacobsen got NAU going with the first three points on kills, and finished the set with five while redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson, Dorsey and Lofstedt combined for 10 more kills. Barton's ace capped a 6-2 opening NAU run and the lead held the rest of the way heading into the break.
The Hornets seized control out of the intermission with a 7-2 run to take a 10-5 lead, but the Lumberjacks ultimately erased the five-point deficit with a gradual comeback. Jorgenson and Lofstedt recorded three kills to cut the Hornet lead to 16-15, which forced a Sacramento State timeout. NAU eventually tied it at 19-19 before Barton and Jacobsen converted on kills, which put the Lumberjacks in the driver's seat at 23-21. After an NAU service error, Jacobsen and Lofstedt foreshadowed their fourth set exploits with the final kills to put a bow tie on NAU's comeback in the critical third set.
Dorsey tallied her second double-digit blocking game of the season with 10, playing a big role in holding Sacramento State under .200 hitting in every set and .162 for the afternoon. NAU's back row was also stout with four players finishing in double-digit digs led by Jacobsen's career-high 21. Redshirt freshman Hannah Cherry totaled 16 with junior Brooke Donnelly and freshman Sydney Lema followed with 14 and 12 respectively.
Offensively, Jorgenson also reached double-figure kills with 10, while freshman Abby Akin recorded her second straight tournament match without a hitting error and hit .385 with five kills.
"Today was tough and it was a grind," Murphy said. "Sac State was playing at a good level, and we started the match a little jittery. We were able to regroup and have confidence in the things we do well. At the end, we were playing exactly how we wanted to. The composure and belief in themselves that in big moments, we just have to be the best versions of ourselves is what I'm proud of most. I'm excited about trying to do that exact thing one more time tomorrow."
The Lumberjacks will play the host and top overall seed North Dakota in Saturday's championship match slated for a 6 p.m. Arizona time start. The match can be seen for free on watchbigsky.com. NAU will be seeking its third ever NCAA Tournament appearance, and second in two years.
The Fighting Hawks swept the 'Jacks in the Rolle Activity Center just last Thursday, Nov. 10 in their only meeting this season.