Lumberjacks seek to disprove No. 8 preseaon ranking
By Alli Jenney
On Aug. 13, the Big Sky Coaches Preseason Poll was revealed, predicting the NAU women’s volleyball squad would place eighth out of the now 11-team conference. With a 2011 overall season record of 15–10 (6–10 Big Sky Conference) the Lumberjacks aim to prove their strength to not only themselves but also their competitors.
Entering his fifth season as head coach, Craig Choate will lead five seniors from his first recruiting class of 2008 and the rest of his team, eight of whom are returning from the 2011 squad that began the season 12–0, setting a NAU record, into a tough season schedule with 14 of their first 15 matches away from home.
“[This season] is a lot different. We have to focus a lot more and obviously there’s home-court advantage so we’re coming in at a disadvantage,” senior libero Anna Gott said. “We lost our home tournament so that’s kind of tough, but we get to travel more, play some better teams. So, I think that our preseason tournaments will be really good for us.”
For the first three weekends of the season, the Lumberjacks will face The Citadel (8–22 in 2011 season), CSU Bakersfield (8–18) and UNLV (14–17) at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas; Fresno State (14–15), Cornell (5–21) and Colorado (6–24) in the Omni Hotels Colorado Volleyball Classic at Boulder, Colo.; and finally UC Riverside (7–23), Penn (10–14) and UC Berkeley (26–7) in the Molten Classic presented by Hilton Garden Inn at Berkeley, Calif.
Along with Gott are senior outside hitters Lauren Campbell, Kelli Dallmann (who was the setter during the 2011 season), Lexi Sullivan and Jen Wilson. Emotions are running high as these Jacks enter their final season and they hope their experience will aid them in their matchups with some of the younger teams in conference.
This past season, Gott, Dallmann and Sullivan each appeared in all 25 matches. In just three seasons, Gott ranks second in program history with 1, 305 career digs, Dallmann has recorded 2, 249 career assists and is sixth in school history while Sullivan holds the sixth spot for 2, 916 attacks. Campbell made 18 match appearances and Wilson took to the court for 24 matches.
“[I hope to] just to keep the team motivated; keep the team focused. [We'll keep] our heads on straight, ready to try to win everything, trying to win conference,” Gott said. “Our goal is to get to the conference tournament. This year we added teams, so it’s the top six that go, so to get in that top six and get to the conference tournament is our goal right now.”
Helping these seniors reach this goal are three returning sophomores, setter Kalee Kirby and middle blockers Sydney Kemper and Taylor Stephens. Kirby appeared in 22 matches, and concluded the season with 92 assists and 11 kills. Kemper, an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention, played in all 25 matches, having at least one kill each match and totaled 45 digs. Stephens made 17 match appearances and posted 15 blocks on the season.
Additionally, three incoming recruits and one transfer join the Lumberjacks squad. Arizona natives Payton Bock (middle blocker), Trianna Henry (outside hitter) and Erin Truett (setter) stay close to home by coming to Flagstaff, and Colorado phenom Janae Vander Ploeg will also help on the outside hitter position.
“I just want to contribute to make everyone better,” Vander Ploeg said. “Whether it’s playing on the court or being on the bench, just being a good teammate and pushing everyone to be their best.”
Last season Truett, a junior transfer from South Mountain Community College, made the National Junior College Athletic All-Region selection and was named to the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference All-Conference Division-II second team. A member of Kansas State her freshman year, her experience in the setter position will bring a competitive edge in preparation for conference.
The Lumberjacks open their season and line-up of away games on Aug. 24-25 at the UNLV Invitational. They look to face strong competition and use their experience to prove themselves upon conference play.
“I’m playing a different position [and] I’m just going to go all out and I just want to prove that I can play volleyball. I’m going to do my thing and help my team in any way I can,” said Dallmann. “We will prove that we are not No. 8. We want to make it to the tournament and we’ll go from there.”