NAU volleyball wins in Big Sky quarterfinals

GREELEY, Colo. – Freshman Janae Vander Ploeg had a match-high 16 kills on a .405 hitting percentage while adding nine digs as NAU outhit Montana State .245 to .103 to record a 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-17) sweep in the first quarterfinal match at the Big Sky volleyball championship. NAU won its first postseason match since 1999 while winning its 13th consecutive match overall against Montana State.
NAU advances to face No. 2 seed Idaho State later Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinal round. The Lumberjacks and Bengals split their two matches during the regular season, with each team scoring a 3-1 win on its home court.
“The team was just on track and Kalee’s sets were great,” said Vander Ploeg. “It was a great effort and we just wanted to go out there and start strong. To get this far is a huge success for the team and we just want to go as far as we can.  
Vander Ploeg, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., also added a team-high two blocks in a superb postseason debut. Sophomore Sydney Kemper, freshman Payton Bock, and seniors Kelli Dallmann and Lexi Sullivan each added five kills while setter Kalee Kirby has 33 assists and eight digs and senior libero Anna Gott had a match-high 20 digs.
The opening set was tied at 4-4 early before NAU used a 6-1 run to force a Bobcat timeout. Montana State climbed back to a 10-7 deficit and still trailed by three at 16-13 before the Lumberjacks went on a 5-1 spurt to take a 21-14 lead. Vander Ploeg hit .400 with six kills in the opening frame as the Lumberjacks reached set point at 24-18 and the Bobcats fended off a pair of set points before Sullivan ended the set with a kill.
Montana State took the first point of the second set but never led again. NAU had a slim 9-8 lead before a 4-0 run gave NAU a 13-8 lead. MSU responded by winning the next three points to prompt an NAU timeout. The Lumberjacks extended back to a 16-12 lead but the Bobcats battled back once again to trail 16-15. NAU came back with a 7-1 run to take an insurmountable 23-16 lead as a kill from Bock gave the Lumberjacks a 2-0 lead.
The Bobcats again battled the Lumberjacks close through the early stages of the third set as MSU held a 7-6 lead. NAU then won nine of the next 10 points, including a 6-0 run, to take a 15-8 lead. A 4-0 Bobcat run was answered by another extended NAU spurt as a 5-1 run gave the Lumberjacks a 20-13 lead. NAU hit .333 in third set with 14 kills and just three attack errors as a kill from Kemper gave NAU the three-set win.
NAU held MSU to hitting percentages below .100 in two of the three sets and had six services aces to just two for the Bobcats. Montana State did have a 10-3 advantage in blocks led by seven blocks from seniors Taylar Barney and had slight advantages in digs and assists.
A win in the semifinals later today would give NAU its third all-time trip to the Big Sky Championship final.