FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After opening the day with a 3-0 whitewash of Hampton (25-10, 25-20, 25-16), NAU outlasted New Mexico in an exhilarating five set match, 3-2 (25-17, 27-25, 17-25, 22-25, 15-13), to claim the 2011 Fiesta Bowl Tournament championship. NAU improved to 6-0 on the year, its best start to a season since the 1991 team went 11-0 to open its campaign.
Senior outside hitter Kobi Christensen, who averaged 4.36 kills and 2.18 digs for the tournament and posted a career high 23 kills in NAU's championship-clinching victory over New Mexico , was named Fiesta Bowl Tournament MVP for the second consecutive year. Junior setter Kelli Dallmann (10.27 assists per set, 2.27 digs per set) and freshman middle blocker Sydney Kemper (1.33 blocks per set, 7 blocks vs. New Mexico) also represented the Lumberjacks on the All-Tournament team.
"I think we played to our strength," said NAU head coach Craig Choate, "We don't do anything exceptional, but we do everything well. We have developed an absolute defensive will to never let the ball drop, and that was what made the difference tonight."
After opening with a 25-17 first set win, NAU faced a set point at 24-21 in the second set. An attack error by New Mexico and consecutive kills from Christensen evened the set at 24-24, but a kill by New Mexico's Kelly Williamson again put the Lobos a point away from evening the match at 25-24. The Lumberjacks would claim the next three points, however, as three consecutive New Mexico attack errors, punctuate by a block from Christensen and Kemper, gave NAU the set and a 2-0 lead.
Following the intermission, New Mexico took control with a 25-17 third set win to move the match to 2-1. The Lumberjacks played from behind early in the fourth, trailing by as many as eight points before rallying to pull within one point at 23-22. The Lobos would respond with consecutive kills from Williamson, however, to even the match and force a fifth set.
The fifth set would be played as tightly as the first four, with neither team taking more than a one point lead until the conclusion. After a 13-13 tie and a New Mexico timeout, an attack error by Lobo sophomore Ashley Newman pushed NAU to a point from victory, and a subsequent attack error by New Mexico's Ashley Rhoades gave NAU a dramatic 3-2 win.
Christensen added seven digs and three blocks to go with her career best kill total in earning MVP honors. Kemper totaled 10 kills and four digs in addition to her seven blocks, while junior Jen Wilson tallied 10 kills. Dallmann notched 52 assists and nine digs, while junior libero Anna Gott contributed 16 digs.
The Lumberjacks opened the day with a dominant 3-0 win over Hampton. Christensen led the way with 12 kills and 11 digs while senior Katie Bailey notched 10 kills, four digs and three blocks as NAU hit .224 as a team and totaled five team blocks. Hampton hit -.044 and had just 17 kills for the entire match.
In other action Saturday, New Mexico defeated San Jose State, 3-1, and San Jose State topped Hampton, 3-0. New Mexico finished the tournament in second place at 2-1 while San Jose State went 1-2 and Hampton was 0-3.
NAU returns to action next weekend at the Air Force Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo., opening play against South Carolina-Upstate on Friday at 5 p.m.
All-Fiesta Bowl Tournament Selections
MVP: Kobi Christensen, OH, Northern Arizona
Top Libero: Allison Buck, New Mexico
Kelli Dallmann, S, Northern Arizona
Sydney Kemper, MB, Northern Arizona
Mariah Agre, S, New Mexico
Ashley Rhoades, MB, New Mexico
Krista Miller, OH, San Jose State
Mariah Baylor, MB, Hampton