Commentary: NAU women’s volleyball success credited to verstility
By Alli Jenney
Earlier this season against Weber State University, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) women’s volleyball team set a program record, allowing their opponent to earn just 40 points in a match. While hosting the University of Montana this past weekend, NAU succeeded in breaking the record by one point in a three set sweep (25–8, 25–11, 25–20).
NAU had been projected in preseason polls to finish eighth out of the now 11–team Big Sky Conference. Coming into the match with a conference record of 5–2, after hosting Montana State University earlier last week and sweeping them (25–21, 25–18, 25–18), the Lumberjacks continue to disprove this projection. The Montana State Bobcats (No. 11 in preseason polls) faced the Lumberjacks with a conference record of 4–2 and the Montana Grizzlies were projected to finish fifth, although their record stood at 1–6 prior to their match with the Lumberjacks.
Now with a conference record of 6–2, the NAU squad is tied with the University of Northern Colorado for third in conference, with their only losses to No. 1 and No. 2 Portland State University and Idaho State University, respectively.
A large factor in their record comes from the Lumberjacks’ ability to convert on out-of-system plays as well as use their serving and offense to create out-of-system plays for their opponents. This was seen through their matches against the Montana schools, as NAU competed to execute their game plan and play at their competitive level.
Ideally, a squad wants to pass to their setter, who will in turn set one of their front row hitters, who will convert this set with an attack for a kill and end the rally. Many factors prevent teams from such a feat, therefore creating out-of-system plays. These plays can range from bad passes, to a non–setter taking the second ball, or having a player who is typically known for their passing become an attacker. Luckily for the Lumberjacks, these out-of-system rallies usually turn out in their favor.
Looking into the statistics from their last match, set per set, the Lumberjacks outhit the Grizzlies .652–.077, .560–.040 and .308–.258. Hitting .471 overall, the Lumberjacks tied their second best program history mark, previously held by the 1996 squad after they played Tulsa.
With the experience of the veteran players and contributions of the three freshmen, the Lumberjacks have proven to have a squad full of depth and versatility on both offense and defense. This has caused problems for many of the teams they have faced.
Due to these assets across the court, many opponents have found themselves out of their comfort zones and returning rallies in the forms of free balls (passing the ball back over the net), tips (a short or deep shot instead of a full swing) or roll shots (a half swing creating top–spin but not a full attack). NAU has capitalized immensely on converting these opportunities into points in our favor.
This ability to create powerful offense, even amidt out-of-system plays, and to force opponents into stressful situations has aided the Lumberjacks to prove themselves as a force to be reckoned with this season.