Illustration by Assistant Coach Megan Greene
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona women's volleyball opens the 2010 fall season at the UniWyo Wyoming Invite in Laramie, Wyo., on Friday, August 27. The Lumberjacks play four total matches this weekend opening with Central Arkansas at 11 a.m.
This fall, NAU returns 10 letter winners all with starting experience. Head coach Craig Choate also signed four players in the offseason with two juniors and two freshmen joining the fall roster.
NAU finished 8-17 overall last year and 5-10 in the Big Sky Conference. The team was picked to finish seventh in the conference this fall.
The Lumberjacks begin the 2010 season in Wyoming with matches against Central Arkansas, Murray State, Southern Utah, and Wyoming. NAU holds a combined 14-9 record against teams at the Wyoming Tournament.
Next week, the Lumberjacks host their annual Fiesta Bowl Tournament. NAU welcomes Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Rider, and Maryland Eastern Shore to the Mountain Campus. The women have won two of the last three Fiesta Bowl titles.
The Lumberjacks close out the non-conference season at the Nevada Wolfpack Invitational the following week. NAU is set to play Nevada, Pacific, and Arizona.
NAU starts the Big Sky Conference regular season at Idaho State on September 17. The Lumberjacks first conference home game will be September 25 against Sacramento State.
Last fall, the Lumberjacks missed the postseason for the second consecutive year. At the Big Sky Championships, Northern Colorado defeated the regular season champions Portland State in the championship final. This year, Montana earned the top spot in the preseason coaches' poll.
Katie Bailey is coming off a breakout season appearing in all 25 matches with 24 starts and setting career marks in kills (12) and blocks (10). She is coming off an injury during the offseason, but will return to the lineup later this season.
"Katie had a good sophomore year and we want to see more improvement from her as a junior," said Choate. "She is not playing now, but we are counting on her to be back to her usual form soon."
Sam Hodgkins played in 10 matches last fall at outside hitter. She started six of the final seven conference matches for the Lumberjacks. Hodgkins played her freshman and sophomore seasons on the outside but will move to setter this year.
"Sam is one of our two setters right now," said Choate. "She is doing a pretty nice job considering for the last two years she has not been a setter. She is working hard. Sam has some things we need to clean up but that will get better with time as she transitions into a new position
Kobi Christensen also produced a breakout season as a sophomore playing in 15 matches and posting a career-high with 17 kills in NAU's five-set win over Eastern Washington last fall. Christensen will move inside to middle blocker this season.
"Kobi has been a real nice surprise," Choate said. "I don't know if she has ever played middle but we moved her over in the spring. She is really doing a nice job getting up fast on balls and bringing some heat. She is blocking better than I thought she would. Kobi is bringing some ball control skills from the outside to the middle position. That is a good deal for us."
Kalena Frank joins the NAU program as a junior and will compete for time at outside hitter.
"She has been the wild card so far," Choate said. "Kalena is outhitting all the outsides and making our job harder. She is winning points and finding ways to work herself into the lineup. As a coach that is always something you want. She keeps scoring points so it is hard to keep her out of the lineup."
Liz Alford is another junior entering her first season with the Lumberjacks. She spent the last two years playing at the junior college level. Alford plays as an outside hitter.
"Liz is someone that can get back the game she had in junior college," Choate said. "Everyday a little more comes back. She has the ability to be a big outside hitter. She has a chance to help us. Liz is a big block, and when she does times it, she can change things for us."
Lauren Campbell led the team with 2.83 points per set and the most kills with 227. Campbell was one of three Lumberjack players to appear in every match and set last year. She will compete for time at outside hitter.
"Lauren spent a lot of time in the summer playing ball and it shows in her game," Choate said. "She did a good job as a freshman, but had a tough spot in the spring. But she is coming back. Lauren is hitting the ball higher this year and becoming more consistent. She is always 100 miles per hour so we are happy with that.
Kelli Dallmann became the second Lumberjack in as many years to be awarded Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year. Dallmann split time between setter and outside hitter and produced one of the best seasons among freshman in Division I volleyball. Dallmann will again be asked to fill different roles for NAU this season.
"Kelli is doing a spectacular job at setter," Dallmann said. "She is so fast and such a good athlete. Now she is setting nice balls from any type of pass. She is a good outside hitter as well but she makes everyone else better as a setter. She is getting more confident with her jump serve too so that is another offensive weapon we have."
Anna Gott also excelled in her first collegiate season leading the Big Sky Conference with 4.60 digs per set as a freshman. She ranks second all-time at NAU in that category as well. Gott will remain the Lumberjacks starting libero this fall.
"Anna started fast and is staying fast," Choate said. "She is our best passer right now. She is doing a great job on defense. She is the smartest volleyball player on our team so it is nice to have her around."
Lexie Schroeder was used as a defensive specialist last year and will continue in a similar role as a sophomore. She played in 23 matches and finished third in digs per set.
"Lexie is starting to pass well now," Choate said. "Lexie always plays excellent defense. We are expecting her to do what she did last year, but also to continue to improve."
Lexi Sullivan began the 2009 season as the Big Sky Conference's reigning Freshman of the Year and was on pace to turn in another brilliant season. She suffered a season-ending injury in the Lumberjacks' first conference match and missed the next 15 matches. Sullivan is healthy and returns for her sophomore year after medically redshirting in 2009.
"The cannon of an arm is still there, but she is not fully back yet," Choate said of Sullivan's progress with summer. "She has not played that much coming off of injury, but when she does get back to form Lexi will an important piece of our offense."
Jen Wilson emerged for NAU after the first month of the season and played an important role for the Lumberjacks during Big Sky play. Wilson finished third on the team in kills per set and hitting percentage. She played in 21 matches at outside hitter and will assume a similar role as a sophomore
Niki Small is one of two freshman this season for the Lumberjacks. She joins the program after a standout career at Ashland High School in Ashland, Ore. Small will be part of the middle block rotation.
"Niki is better every week," said Choate. "She is easily the highest jumping middle we have. She isn't quite used to the pace of the game at the college level and the timing is a bit off. Once she adjusts to that I think Niki will settle in nicely for us."
Keely Stevenson is the second freshman for head coach Craig Choate this fall. Stevenson is a product of El Segundo High School in El Segundo, Calif. She will serve as a defensive specialist and libero this season.
"Keely defensively is on that level and can play with us," Choate said. "That is saying something considering the other girls as freshman did not come in where Keely has. She is not as good a passer yet, but just like with Niki, when she adjusts to the speed she will be fine."