FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU volleyball team (13-4, 4-4 BSC) begins the second half of conference play this week with matches at Montana (6-10, 3-5 BSC) on Friday at 6 p.m. and Montana State (3-16, 2-6 BSC) on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Lumberjacks defeated both Montana schools in Flagstaff in mid September and will look to end a three match losing streak in the Treasure State this weekend.
Despite the rough stretch, NAU is ranked No. 125 in the first official NCAA RPI release, the highest ranking among Big Sky teams. Idaho State is second at No. 138 with Northern Colorado just behind at No. 139.
Freshman Kalee Kirby started her first match at setter last Saturday against Weber State and performed admirably, totaling 26 assists and adding five kills on a .667 hitting percentage, four digs and a block assist. With Kirby at setter, junior Kelli Dallmann shifted to outside hitter and was second on the team with six kills in the match to go with five digs.
After a school record 12-0 start to the season, the Lumberjacks have lost four of their last five matches, with their only win coming from down 2-0 at Eastern Washington. NAU has not won a first or second set in each of the last five matches, and the Lumberjacks have seen their conference-best opponent hitting percentage jump from .125 prior to the five match stretch to .199 currently, with the opposition hitting .221 during the streak. The Lumberjacks have averaged just 1.47 blocks per set during the last five matches after posting 2.43 blocks per set during their 12-0 start.
NAU adapted the mindset of having a 0-0 record to open Big Sky play after going 9-0 in the non-conference season, and a similar approach will be necessary for the second half of the Big Sky slate. At 4-4, the Lumberjacks are still in a good position to finish in the top four and advance to the Big Sky Championship. The Lumberjacks will have the advantage of playing three of the top four Big Sky teams at home while facing three of the bottom four Big Sky teams on the road in the second round of conference play.
NAU and Montana met in Flagstaff on Sept. 17, a 3-1 win for the Lumberjacks. Junior Lexi Sullivan had 16 kills and hit .333 in that match, as NAU hit .565 in the first set and .245 for the match. Montana has recorded Big Sky wins over Montana State, Weber State, and Sacramento State this season and has won three of its last four matches. NAU broke a six match losing streak to Montana with its win in September, but has not won in Missoula since 2007.
The Lumberjacks tallied a 3-0 sweep of Montana State to open conference play on Sept. 15, as freshman Sydney Kemper hit .800 with eight kills and four blocks to lead NAU to the victory. The Bobcats earned 3-2 Big Sky wins over Idaho State and Weber State the first time through conference play. Montana State is second to last in the Big Sky in hitting percentage (.140), kills (11.38/set), assists (10.53/set), service aces (0.84/set) and digs (14.56/set). With its win over the Bobcats in September, NAU has won nine consecutive matches against MSU, including four straight wins in Bozeman.