Volleyball to Face Tough Tests at Portland State, Eastern Washington
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – One of only three remaining undefeated NCAA Division-I volleyball teams in the country, Northern Arizona (12-0, 3-0 BSC) faces a challenging road trip this week with matches at Portland State (7-9, 3-1 BSC) on Friday and Eastern Washington (8-6, 4-0 BSC) on Saturday. Eastern Washington is the only other remaining undefeated team in Big Sky play while Portland State enters the week in third place in the conference.
Northern Arizona has set a program record with its 12-0 start, surpassing the 11-0 season start by the 1991 team as the best in school history. The 12 victories are also the longest winning streak in program history, but head coach Craig Choate and his squad are focused solely on the tasks ahead.
"Three minutes after that match ended, Portland State came into my mind," said Choate following NAU's win at Sacramento State last Thursday. "The key for us is to just enjoy this streak as it happens but not to think about it too much and focus on the next match."
After pulling out the five set win at Sacramento State last Thursday, the first NAU win in Sacramento in program history, the Lumberjacks began this week as one of only three remaining unbeaten NCAA Division-I teams in the country. NAU joins No. 1 Illinois (13-0) and No. 12 Purdue (13-0), two perennial powers from the Big 10 Conference, among the remaining national elite.
Forced to play the last two matches without the services of senior outside hitter Kobi Christensen, the Big Sky leader in kills per set, several Lumberjacks have stepped up admirably to fill in for their injured teammate. Junior Lexi Sullivan has replaced Christensen in the starting lineup and has averaged a superb 4.22 kills per set while hitting .281 over the last two matches, including a season best 22 kills against Sacramento State. Freshman Sydney Kemper has continued her torrid pace in averaging 2.89 kills per set and hitting .375 during the stretch, while junior Lauren Campbell has also moved into a prominent roll and has averaged 2.44 kills. In addition to contributing 2.00 kills per set, junior Jen Wilson has helped replace Christensen's 2.26 digs per set in averaging 3.78 digs, including a career high 22 at Sacramento State.
With conference play in full swing, Northern Arizona continues to be among the Big Sky leaders in every statistical category. NAU is in the top-four in every major statistical category and leads the conference in opponent hitting percentage and service aces. NAU's opponent hitting percentage of .125 is 35 points better than the next closest conference team (Northern Colorado, .160). Every other conference team also has at least five losses.
Individually, NAU has the Big Sky leaders in kills (Kobi Christensen, 3.77/set), assists (Kelli Dallmann, 10.46/set) and service aces (Dallmann, 0.38/set). Katie Bailey is second in blocks (1.13/set) and third in hitting percentage (.275) while Sydney Kemper is third in blocks (1.12/set) and fourth in hitting percentage (.263). Lexi Sullivan is second in aces (0.31/set) and ninth in kills (2.93/set).
Portland State has won three consecutive matches to improve to 7-9 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky after dropping its conference opener, 3-1, against Idaho State. Last weekend, the Vikings posted 3-2 road wins over both Montana and Montana State, while they claimed their first conference win the previous week at home against Weber State. The Vikings are third in the Big Sky this season in both opponent hitting percentage (.164) and digs per set (15.41). Northern Arizona has lost 13 consecutive matches to Portland State, including five consecutive 3-0 sweeps, and last defeated the Vikings in 2004. Despite the long draught, NAU is still 15-15 all-time against Portland State.
Eastern Washington begins the week leading the Big Sky at 4-0, though their last three wins against Idaho State, Montana State and Montana all went five sets. The Eagles opened conference play with a 3-0 sweep of Weber State and have won five consecutive matches overall. The Eagles lead the Big Sky in blocks (2.44/set), are second, behind NAU, in services aces (1.28/set) and are third in the conference in hitting percentage, assists and kills. NAU is 22-33 all-time against Eastern Washington but won the last meeting between the teams in Flagstaff last season. The Lumberjacks have not won in Cheney since 2006.
NAU Volleyball Best Season Starts (Through 12 Matches)
Year - Record - Finish
2011 - 12-0 - ???
1991 - 11-1 - 26-8, NIVC Championship Participant
2008 - 10-2 - 15-10
1983 - 10-2 - 19-10
2001 - 9-3 - 16-7
1992 - 9-3 - 17-11
1981 - 9-3 - 12-11