Lumberjacks sweep opening tournament
By Alli Jenney
Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) women’s volleyball team has now clinched its fourth consecutive nonconference tournament, dating back to this past season, with their victory at the UNLV Invitational Aug. 24 and 25 in Las Vegas. Senior outside hitter Kelli Dallmann was named MVP and sophomore middle blocker Sydney Kemper and freshman outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg were recognized on the All–Tournament team in their 2012 season debuts.
“It felt good to get out there and put everything together we’ve been working on for three weeks straight,” Dallmann said. “I’m just proud of the team and it was really nice for three of us to make the All–Tournament team.”
Friday night, the Lumberjacks faced South Carolina’s The Citadel and presided over the match in a 3–0 sweep (25–9, 25–14, 25–18). Dallmann led the Lumberjacks with 13 kills, hitting an impressive .321 in her first appearance as an outside hitter after serving as the team’s setter her previous three seasons. Vander Ploeg had seven kills through the match and fellow freshman middle blocker Payton Bock made five of her own in her first appearance of the season.
Saturday morning, the Lumberjacks matched up against a more challenging California State University-Bakersfield, resulting in a 3–1 match victory (26–28, 25–16, 25–22, 25–13). Dallmann and Vander Ploeg each contributed 12 kills, while Kemper added 11 of her own. In a close opening set, CSU Bakersfield capitalized on late errors by NAU with the final points coming down to a service and attack error. Upon their first dropped set, the Lumberjacks took the loss and bounced back to claim the match.
“That was actually perfect, the Citadel match didn’t really tell us anything because it was too easy and we all kind of knew it,” said head coach Craig Choate. “Bakersfield pushing us kind of set a tone for us, so we were kind of ready for UNLV to be a harder match too. We know we have to grind point for point. We’re not going to run millions of points or anything; we’re not that kind of team. Hopefully that’s what we’ll do for the rest of the season.”
In their match against host team UNLV, NAU took home the title in another 3–1 match win (25–15, 27–25, 20–25, 25–15). Dallmann and Vander Ploeg continued their dominant weekend play with 13 kills each.
“I was nervous at first, but after the first serve, all the nerves went away and it was just excitement and ready to be out there and playing with everyone,” Vander Ploeg said about the weekend play. “It felt great. Our practices are still competitive, but playing another team and playing together is just something that’s really fun to do.”
A strong offense cannot be accredited without good defense and setting establishing each rally. Sophomore setter Kalee Kirby tallied 121 assists, a feat fostered by senior libero Anna Gott’s defense with 31 digs through the tournament and freshman outside hitter Trianna Henry contribution of 25 digs of her own in her debut as a Lumberjack.
“In the past, we haven’t always been solid across the board and we are now,” Choate said. “So if one person has an off night, it doesn’t necessarily hurt us as much because we have a whole bunch of people that can hit. Physically, we’re a better team than we were last year.”
The Lumberjacks will take to the court again in another non-conference tournament on Aug. 31 for the Omni Hotels Colorado Volleyball Classic in Boulder, Colo. at 3 p.m. vs Fresno State.