Volleyball makes late season surge, clinches playoff berth in split weekend
By Alli Jenney
After dropping a match against No. 11 Eastern Washington on Nov. 1, for the first time since 1991, the Northern Arizona University women’s volleyball team recorded its third 20–win season in program history with a defeating No. 1 Portland State University on Nov. 3.
With the win, the Lumberjacks not only improved to a Big Sky Conference (BSC) record of 12–4, but also dropped the Vikings to tie for first with the Idaho State Bengals at 14–2, ending a 16 match losing streak dating back to 2004.
For the senior class, the four set win (25–19, 19–25, 25–21, 25–16) was especially satisfying as they had yet to defeat the Vikings during their four year tenure.
“We knew we that we kind of had to pick it up from Thursday and that’s how you find out good teams, it’s how they rebound from tough losses,” senior libero(?) Anna Gott said. “We [came] into the season not beating either Northern Colorado or Portland [State] and that was kind of our two huge goals and so far we got them, so hopefully we keep it that way.”
The team appeared more comfortable and in control of their side of the net than their play against the Eastern Washington Eagles; the Lumberjacks allowed the Vikings to create their own errors. 31 of the Lumberjacks’ 94 overall points came off of Viking hitting errors, while the Lumberjacks committed 19 of the Vikings’ 81.
“I think we got to a point kind of the past couple matches where we were trying to think too much and I think that we just needed to simplify it and worry about us and make things happen,” Gott said.
After dominating the opening set, the Lumberjacks allowed the Vikings to come out with a fire in the second set falling behind 1–5 before head coach Craig Choate called a timeout to slow down the pace of the game. The set was back and forth after the call but the Lumberjacks were unable to close the gap, only able to reach within three points before the Vikings took control at the net at the end to take the set.
During the third game, the Lumberjacks found the weakness within the Vikings’ defense, utilizing the “donut” portion of the court, avoiding the block by tipping or attacking with an off–speed shot right over it and into the open center of the court.
“This is the learning curve,” Choate said. “You’ve got to get good. You’ve got to learn how to play against the good teams.”
With a chance to take down the No. 1 seed, the Lumberjacks used the momentum from the previous set to clinch the match heading into the fourth game. Senior outside hitter Kelli Dallmann held to the strategic shot locations rather than relying on power in placing her attacks. Dallmann put the ball away at 19–15 and would serve the next four points until the Vikings would side out at 23–16.
After a hitting error by the Vikings, the Rolle Activity Center fans rose to their feet awaiting the Lumberjacks’ chance to end the set and the match. With Gott behind the service line, the crowd was silenced until her ball cleared the net and was shanked out of the reach of play for an ace. The fans went wild.
“On game point when everybody stood up and started cheering; I got the chills.” Dallmann said.
Dallmann finished with 13 kills, an ace and nine digs for the match. While freshman outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg contributed 11 kills and five digs of her own. Sophomore middle blocker Sydney Kemper hit an impressive .429, with nine kills on 21 attempts.
“The best part of the whole thing is win or lose, and I think it’s really hard for the team to understand this, but I really mean it, it’s they just played well,” Choate said. “The energy level we had didn’t relax on Thursday. This time we had an energy level and we were relaxed and just played ball.”
Thursday night against the Eagles, miscommunication and timidity caused the Lumberjacks to see their fourth loss in BSC play in a five set loss (25–22, 23–25, 18–25, 25–21, 21–23).
Middle blockers Kemper and freshman Payton Bock kept the team engaged with 14 and 20 kills respectively. Sophomore setter Kalee Kirby had 64 assists and Dallmann contributed 19 digs.
With the fifth set typically ending at 15, the Lumberjacks and Eagles continued to battle with one another to epitomize the tightness of the match, battling off each match point, until an Eagle setter dump terminated the evening play.
“It was kind of like a reality check,” Dallmann said. “We just had to refocus and come back strong.”
This weekend the Lumberjacks will play against Montana on Friday and Montana State on Saturday to complete their final road matches of regular season.