Volleyball rebounds from road loss with home sweep of Southern Utah
By Jasmyn Wimbish
In another impressive home win by the women’s volleyball team, Northern Arizona University (NAU) remains undefeated at the Rolle Activity Center while defending home court against Southern Utah University Thunderbirds. The Lumberjacks faced off against the Thunderbirds and ended in a 3–0 sweep (25–15, 25–17, 25–22).
With another win under its belt, NAU improves to 19–4 overall and 11–3 in the Big Sky Conference (BSC). Freshman outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg led all hitters in the match, ending the night with 17 kills while senior outside hitter Kelli Dallmann followed behind her with 11 kills.
The Lumberjacks took control of the first set early, grabbing onto a 9–4 lead before the Thunderbirds were inclined to call a timeout to stop the barrage of kills from the Jacks. This timeout did not stop the constant attack placed by NAU, as they led the first set the entire time with only one tie.
After a solid block by freshman middle blocker Payton Bock, NAU pushed even further ahead in the set with a 19–7 lead. The Lumberjacks allowed the Thunderbirds to score eight more points before finishing off the set with a kill by sophomore middle blocker Sydney Kemper, who finished the night with a hitting percentage of .500, converting on 9 of 14 hits.
The second set started out similar to the first with NAU jumping out to a 10–5 lead, which was shortly cut to a one-point lead before head coach Craig Choate called a timeout. This only caused the Thunderbirds to grab onto an 11–10 lead. After a block from Vander Ploeg and Kemper, the Lumberjacks regained control and coasted to another set win.
With a commanding 2–0 set advantage, NAU fell to a 6–2 deficit in the third set before calling a timeout to stop the scoring streak from Southern Utah. After drawing blanks in the blocking category in the first two sets, the Thunderbirds were able to muster up six blocks to stop the scoring power of Lumberjack offense.
“I think they made a nice coaching change,” Choate said. “They totally committed on Payton, because she was crushing them and we didn’t do a very good job of adjusting to that.”
Dallmann registered a powerful kill to stop the run made by Southern Utah, making the score 5–8. NAU was working from behind the entire set, and finally took the lead at 19–18.
“We try not to panic and try to stay calm, but that’s something we’re working on,” Dallmann said. “I think we took initiative more than anything.”
NAU did exactly that and held on to win the third set and sweep Southern Utah. Along with the sweep, senior libero Anna Gott moved herself into fourth for the most digs in BSC history at 1,736. Before this match, Gott was ten digs shy of moving into fourth, and she surpassed the record while recording 11 digs on the evening.
The Lumberjacks were tested on the road against Sacramento State University in a five-game match. The Jacks would fall to the Hornets, but left with some individual records that night.
Vander Ploeg recorded a career-high for kills, 21, while Gott also reached her career high in digs with 35. Sophomore setter Kalee Kirby also had an impressive match, totaling a career best of 60 assists.
“Sacramento State played a great game, and I think that our team came out and fought hard the whole time,” Vander Ploeg said. “Everyone played great, we just couldn’t get the right balls to fall and they could.”
The Jacks still have a busy week ahead of them with two more home games against the Eastern Washington University Eagles and the Portland State University Vikings. NAU beat the Eagles earlier in the season 3–1, and were swept by the number-one team in the BSC, Portland State.
“Eastern keeps playing everyone hard so it’ll be a hard match,” Choate said. “On Saturday, well it’s just like when Idaho State came here; you can’t give up to the top team in the conference.”
If the Jacks win on Thursday, they would clinch their first postseason berth since 2007. NAU is currently third in the BSC; and with six games left in the season, four of which being home, the Jacks could be cruising to the Big Sky Championship.
“I think we are so close to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that we have to get that second wind,” Choate said. “You’re supposed to protect home court, and that’s what we did tonight.”