Lumberjacks volleyball remains undefeated in opening of the Fiesta Bowl Volleyball Tournament
By Dorian Simon
The NAU Lumberjacks volleyball team (4–0) was determined to maintain their undefeated record in their first home match of the 2011 campaign. On the opening night of the Fiesta Bowl Volleyball Tournament, the Lumberjacks won in
convincing fashion over the San Jose State Spartans (SJSU) (1–3), winning in three straight sets and extending their streak to four victories to open the season. It was the 19th time in the last 21 years that the Lumberjacks have hosted the Fiesta Bowl Tournament, an event that they have won three of the last four years, and they look poised to take home another tournament championship after a stellar performance on Friday night.
In the first set of the match, the Lumberjacks came out with intensity, focus, and great energy, which was apparent from the first serve. The Lumberjacks started the match by scoring eight of the first nine points, forcing SJSU into calling a timeout. The Lady Jacks never let up in the first set as junior setter Kelli Dallmann recorded one of her five aces on the first serve coming out of the timeout. Dallmann, coming off a great performance at last week’s Wolverine Invitational in Utah, where she took home Most Valuable Player of the tournament honors in addition to winning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, maintained her focus and intensity in the first home match of the year.
“You don’t worry about that stuff [awards],” Dallmann said. “I mean, it’s nice but I just stay focused, doesn’t change anything. Still work hard, still work as a team.”
But the offense wasn’t the only thing working for the Lumberjacks. The defense helped propel NAU to their first home victory and began in the first set with great effort, limiting the Spartans to only 13 points while recording two blocks and 10 digs as a team. The stifling defense by the Lumberjacks appeared to rattle the Spartans and they were never able to recover in the first set, losing 25–13.
After a dominating performance by NAU in the first set, SJSU tried to shift the momentum. From the start of the second set, the Spartans showed their fighting spirit by battling hard for every ball and improved their team communication.
With the score 8–4 NAU, the Spartans battled back, managing to tie the game at 10–10. Senior outside hitter Kobi Christensen made a great defensive play to dig a hard kill-attempt by
Spartan junior right setter Krista Miller, which led to the go-ahead point by the Lumberjacks.
“They kind of pushed back at us a little bit harder,” Christensen said. “So we kind of let back a bit but we came back strong enough to finish off the match.”
At this point the Lumberjacks managed to regain their focus and poise — assets that seemed to escape them through the first half of the second set. Moments later, Christensen had a solid kill to put the Lumberjacks up 14–13 before they rattled off three straight points, forcing the head coach of SJSU, Oscar Crespo, to call a timeout. With both defenses playing superb volleyball, the Lumberjacks took the reins and relied on their teamwork and veterans to finish the set strong. Christensen recorded six kills and four digs to go along with Dallmann’s 10 assists and four digs in the second set to push the Lumberjacks to a victory in consecutive sets, taking a commanding 2–0 lead in the match.
After a 10 minute break, both sides were ready for the third set. The break seemed to give the Spartans a boost of energy as they looked determined not to lose the match in straight sets. Some communication breakdowns and errors by NAU allowed the Spartans to take a 12–10 lead, forcing Lumberjacks head coach Craig Choate into calling a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Lumberjacks returned to their first set form and scored two straight points, with Christensen earning another one of her 13 kills off of a Dallmann assist. Improved communication, smart plays, and great team defense led to their close 25–21 victory in the third set, which secured the match victory in three straight sets.
The dominating victory was especially sweet for coach Choate, who coached at San Jose State for fourteen years before coming to Northern Arizona.
“The truth is, I really wanted to get this match,” said Choate. “There’s no way around it so, it was fun.”
Going into the final day of the tournament on Saturday, Sept. 3rd, the Lumberjacks take their 4–0 record up against Hampton in the day game and will play again in the evening when they face New Mexico. They will be seeking their second consecutive Fiesta Bowl Volleyball Tournament victory and their fourth in the last five years.