Volleyball opens Big Sky play on the road, breaks even
By Alli Jenney
After ending non-conference play with an 8–1 record, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) women’s volleyball team began Big Sky Conference play against Idaho State University (ISU) and Weber State University (WSU), splitting the weekend matches.
Despite dropping its Big Sky (BSC) opener on Sept. 14 to ISU (20–25, 25–23, 21–25, 21–25), NAU set a school record this following day after its sweep of WSU, holding the Wildcats to just 40 points overall through the Lumberjacks three–set match (25–18, 25–10, 25–12).
Returning to not just her home state of Utah, but also her hometown, sophomore setter Kalee Kirby ran her offense beautifully with 35 assists, allowing her hitters to dominate the match, outhitting Weber State .375 to .019.
“It was great because Weber’s where I’m from,” Kirby said. “It was great to play in front of my family and to play to our potential and to beat them pretty handily.”
The Jacks’ middle blockers, sophomore Syndey Kemper and freshman Payton Bock, totaled incredible statistics, with 12 kills on just 16 attempts and 10 blocks between the both of them. Freshman outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg continued to impress as she contributed 11 kills, 7 digs and three blocks of her own. Vander Ploeg and Kirby noted how it was good for the team to play together and at their level of play, especially in the face of lower competition and head coach Craig Choate agreed.
“[We] were better than they were; it’s not rocket science. But what was impressive is that we didn’t play down with them. We just played like NAU and you know, it took care of itself. That was a good sign,” Choate said.
In regard to their close momentum shifting play against the Bengals of Idaho State, the Lumberjacks did play to their potential and competitive edge, and hope to come out on top when they host the Bengals at home on Oct. 20. Opening the first two sets with a 7–1 lead, the Lumberjacks would fall just shy of the first game after allowing the Bengals to go on a 9–2 run to take the game to 10–9 early on. Coming out strong in the second game, the Lumberjacks would hold on to even the afternoon at one set apiece, however, the Bengals would secure the last two sets to take the win.
“They played a great game and you could tell our team came out a little timid, but we kept picking it with each game and it’s just a good learning experience and we know what we need to do next time we play them,” Vander Ploeg said.
The Lumberjacks hit above their team average, .286 compared to .268 season average, led by Vander Ploeg and senior outside hitter Kelli Dallmann who had 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Kirby posted her sixth double–double of the season with 44 assists and 11 digs in the four–set match.
“The match was really competitive. We played really well, and they just played incredibly well and we couldn’t stop them. It wasn’t a question of good versus bad, it was good versus awesome,” said Choate. “We’re right on track with what I think we can do, so I’m fine with it.”
NAU is now 9–2 for the 2012 season and 1–1 in BSC play. After 11 matches on the road, NAU will host its first home match of the season on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center against California State University-Sacramento (5–6 overall, 1–1 BSC).
“We’re so excited,” Vander Ploeg said. “Hopefully we can show people what they’ve been hearing about.”