In just three seasons, Ken Murphy has elevated the Northern Arizona volleyball program to new heights. From Big Sky Conference contender to Big Sky Champions, Murphy has engineered a program that is not only highly competitive within the conference, but also regionally and nationally.
Murphy enters his fourth season at the helm of the NAU volleyball program in 2016. He was hired as the 11th head volleyball coach in Lumberjack history on July 1, 2013.
Murphy has recorded 68 victories at NAU, easily the most by any Lumberjack head coach through their first three years, and the third-most all-time in school history. With a 68-24 record in Flagstaff, Murphy owns the highest win percentage (.739) in school history. The ‘Jacks have also been nearly unbeatable at home since Murphy took over, compiling a 35-3 record at the Rolle Activity Center.
His third season in 2015 was historic on numerous levels, as the Lumberjacks returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, marking the program’s second appearance ever. Murphy’s Lumberjacks were the undisputed 2015 Big Sky Champions, winning both the outright regular season title – for the first time in school history – in addition to the tournament title. NAU compiled a 28-5 overall record, setting a new school record for victories in a season. The ‘Jacks also set a new school record with 17 consecutive victories entering the NCAA Tournament along with new school records for consecutive home wins in a single season (14), overall consecutive home victories (17) dating back to 2014 and taking a record-tying six-match road win streak into 2016
In addition to winning both the regular season and tournament Big Sky championships, Murphy and the Lumberjacks finished the season at No. 33 in the NCAA RPI rankings, their highest finish ever. They were the highest ranked team in the RPI among the four schools in the state, including Arizona State and Arizona of the Pac -12. Among the notable non-conference victories in 2015 were wins over regional ranked opponents Loyola Marymount – who reached the NCAA Sweet 16 – and Boise State, as well as NAU’s first win over an ACC opponent (Virginia Tech) since 2001.
In 2015, Murphy coached four players to All-Big Sky honors including Janae Vander Ploeg, who became just the third player in school history to be named the Big Sky’s Most Valuable Player. Payton Bock and Jensen Barton were also named to the First Team, giving NAU a school record three first team selections. Lauren Jacobsen was also named to the All-Big Sky Second Team. Vander Ploeg, the school’s first ever three-time First Team selection also went on to become NAU’s first ever AVCA All-Region First Team selection and AVCA All-American. Vander Ploeg and Bock both broke career records in kills and blocks respectively and ranked in the top 10 nationally.
As a team, the Lumberjacks ranked in the top 30 nationally total service aces (fourth), aces per set (seventh), total blocks (11th), blocks per set (20th), opponent hitting percentage (23rd) and hitting percentage (26th). They led the Big Sky in all four categories and just one year after Murphy’s team set a new school record in hitting percentage, the ‘Jacks took it up a level offensively resetting the benchmark at .264.
The program’s evolution started the year prior as Murphy led NAU to a 21-8 overall record and the Lumberjacks advanced to the Big Sky semifinals after posting an 11-5 record in conference play. The 2014 team was one of the most dominant in school history, as they finished the season in the top three in the Big Sky Conference in every statistical category including ranking first in hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists and blocks. NAU set a new school record with a .246 hitting percentage and were top 10 nationally with a .147 opponent hitting percentage and 2.96 blocks per set. Behind All-Big Sky First Team honorees Sydney Kemper and Vander Ploeg and Barton, a Second Team selection, the Lumberjacks raced out to a 9-0 start. It was the program’s third such streak to open a season and set them on their way to their fourth 20-win season in school history. The Lumberjacks also posted a 10-1 record at home, tying the school record, at the time, for best home win percentage (.909) for the third time in history.
His first year in Flagstaff was a success as he guided the Lumberjacks to a 19-11 record, equaling the fourth-most victories in a single season in school history. Murphy led NAU to a 13-7 record in the Big Sky Conference in 2013 and the Lumberjacks earned the fourth-seed in the conference tournament while matching the school record for home victories with 11. He continued the maturation of Vander Ploeg, who was named to the All-Big Sky First Team as a sophomore, and helped coach Kemper to a second team All-Conference nod after switching positions. Murphy instilled resiliency in a young team that returned just three starters and they posted several big victories including a season sweep of Idaho State, the eventual Big Sky Champions, a three-set sweep of San Diego State, an NCAA Tournament team from the year prior, and handing Portland State and North Dakota their first conference losses of the season at home. Under his tutelage, the Lumberjacks finished 2013 as one of two teams to rank in the top-six in the conference in every statistical category.
Murphy arrived at NAU after seven years at UTEP, where he was named the 2012 Conference USA Coach of the Year in his final season. He was the second-most tenured head coach in school history, as he completed his stint with the Miners with an overall record of 82-135, including four Conference USA Tournament appearances. Murphy improved the Miner program over his last two seasons, as he led UTEP to a 35-26 record with five players earning All-Conference USA honors. In 2012, Murphy had two student-athletes earn American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Honorable Mention All-America honors. It was the second and third time in school history for the program.
Murphy previously coached at the University of Idaho (2000-05) and Colorado State University (1997-99).
He received his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State in 1992 and master’s degree in 1995. Ken and his wife Corie, have two children, Makenna Deborah and Kellan.