NAU volleyball rallies, downs Weber State
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- After Weber State narrowly topped NAU in the first and third sets to take the lead, the Lumberjacks held the Wildcats to negative hitting percentages in the fourth and fifth sets to rally for a 3-2 (27-29, 25-14, 21-25, 25-13, 15-4) win in a back-and-forth contest Thursday night in Rolle Activity Center.
Playing in its first five-set match of the year, NAU improved to 9-2 in the Big Sky and 17-3 overall. Weber State moved to 8-14 overall and 2-9 in conference play.
“It was a really weird match,” NAU head coach Craig Choate said. “We got a little ticked off after they took it to us in the first, and I said, 'Guys, look at them kicking and screaming in our gym. We can’t allow that to happen.' At the end of the day, it’s a ‘W,’ and nobody cares how many you do it in. We’ll take the win and call it a night and see what happens on Saturday.”
It certainly was an odd match as NAU completely dominated Weber State in the second and fifth sets but was unable to maintain that level of play in the first and third sets. Weber State hit just .065 for the match but hit .293 and the first and .205 in the third while hitting below .050 in the two other sets, with two negative sets included. The Lumberjacks totaled a .214 hitting percentage and were outblocked 16.5-15.0, the most blocks for an opponent against NAU this season.
Senior Kelli Dallmann totaled her ninth double-double of the year with 10 kills and 10 digs, and freshman Janae Vander Ploeg hit .355 and also had a double-double with a team-high 14 kills to go with and 11 digs. Senior Jen Wilson tallied 11 kills and six blocks on a .360 hitting percentage while freshman Payton Bock chipped in eight kills and seven blocks. Sophomore Audrey Biggs paced the Wildcats with 15 kills.
The first set featured 17 ties and seven lead changes as both teams had chances to win it. Neither team led by more than two points for the entire set as the Wildcats were the first to reach set point at 25-24. NAU responded with a kill from Wilson and a Weber State attack error gave the Lumberjacks a set point. The Wildcats stayed alive and did so again down 27-26, as a Weber State kills and consecutive blocks gave the visitors the opening set.
NAU responded in set two in jumping to a 4-0 lead and never looking backs. The Lumberjacks hit a match-best .276 in the second led by five kills on a .500 set percentage by Vander Ploeg, as NAU turned a 14-9 lead into a 19-9 cushion and cruised to a 25-14 win to level the match.
After the intermission the Wildcats would fight back in a tight third set in which the teams totaled the same number of kills and blocks but the difference would be four Weber State service aces. The set was level at 19-19 before Weber went on a 5-0, and after a pair of NAU points at set point the Wildcats closed out the set to a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set began close as NAU held an 11-10 lead, but a 10-2 Lumberjack run broke it open as the Wildcats committed five errors during that stretch. With NAU up 22-13 a Lumberjack block by sophomores Kalee Kirby and Taylor Stephens and two more Wildcat attack errors forced a fifth set.
NAU took a 4-0 lead in the fifth and quickly extended to an 8-2 advantage. The Wildcats hit -.538 in the fifth set with two kills and nine attack errors forced by four Lumberjack blocks while NAU hit .400. Up 13-4 a kill by Stephens followed by a block by Stephens and Dallmann gave NAU a hard fought win.
Northern Arizona returns to action in Rolle Activity Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday vs Idaho State, which is tied for first in the Big Sky at 10-1 in conference play after a 3-1 win at Southern Utah on Thursday. With a win on Saturday NAU could claim a share of first place in the Big Sky conference.