NAU volleyball sweeps UTPA, shares tournament title

EDINBURG, Texas — Two weekends down and the Northern Arizona volleyball team completed its Texas two-step with a three-set sweep of Texas-Pan American on Saturday, 25-23, 25-19, 25-17. The victory clinched a second straight perfect weekend to begin 2014, following three wins in Houston a week ago, and hammered down the Lumberjacks’ 6-0 start to the season. They claimed a share of the UTPA Tournament championship with the win as Texas Tech also finished the weekend 3-0 in Edinburg and they did not face each other.

"We regrouped really well from yesterday and focused on some things to help us improve," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We played a solid all-around match. We executed our offense really well — Payton (Bock) and Sydney (Kemper) in particular had really good offensive days — and for the most part we had UTPA under control with our defense. It was a good complete team effort."

Senior Sydney Kemper paced the Lumberjacks in the first set as her third kill of the set put a 6-1 NAU run in motion that snapped an 11-all tie. With eight ties through the first 22 points, NAU gained the separation it needed and eventually led by as many as seven points. A late rally by Texas-Pan American made the first set interesting though, as the Broncs staved off four set points to get within one at 24-23 before Kemper’s fifth kill of the opening set secured the 1-0 advantage in the match.

A pair of 4-0 runs in the second set turned a Lumberjack one-point lead, 7-6, into an eight-point margin at 16-8. Sophomore Addy Lofstedt’s kill equaled NAU’s largest lead of the set at 22-14 before the Broncs put together another late comeback as they did in the first set. Four straight UTPA points forced an NAU timeout and the Lumberjacks quickly responded led by junior Payton Bock. Bock’s solo block out of the break stopped the home team’s surge and two points later, she capped the set by dumping her sixth kill over the UTPA block.

The Lumberjacks got off the starting blocks in a hurry to begin the third set with three straight points, two coming off Kemper kills. By the time senior Hannah Hill notched two straight service aces, NAU held an 8-3 lead and it was off to the races. The Lumberjacks never trailed in the third set and steadily increased their lead to as many as eight. There would be no late rally by Texas-Pan American and NAU easily finished off its second three-set sweep of the season.

Kemper and sophomore Lauren Jacobsen represented NAU on the All-Tournament team. Kemper led the Lumberjacks with 3.36 kills per set and hit .386 during the three-match tourney. She also averaged 2.00 digs and 0.55 blocks per set. Jacobsen averaged 2.45 kills per set and hit .250 in addition to 3.09 digs per set. Both Kemper and Jacobsen recorded double-doubles in the first match of the tournament versus Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

As it has throughout its season-opening six-match win streak, NAU was efficient offensively and tough defensively. The Lumberjacks outhit the Broncs, .270-.109, while holding their opponent to a sub-.200 hitting percentage for the fourth time in six matches. Conversely, NAU has hit above .200 in all six matches.

Kemper and Bock each totaled a team-high 10 kills and both were effective with Kemper hitting .529 and Bock hitting .500. Sophomore Jensen Barton recorded 37 assists and had five kills on six attempts while sophomore Isabelle Gosar recorded a team-best four blocks. Hill and redshirt junior Stacia Williams each tallied multiple aces with three and two respectively.

"The challenges this weekend were good for us," Murphy said. "We were able to get some different lineups out there and look at some different things with our team. We learned a lot about ourselves and we really improved."