FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Road matches at Pac-12 perennial power Cal and Colorado and a 20-match conference slate in the newly expanded Big Sky highlight the 2012 schedule for the NAU volleyball team. With three road non-conference tournaments and five of their first six Big Sky matches on the road, NAU will play 14 of its first 15 matches of the year away from Flagstaff.
"It's going to be an interesting start to the season," head coach Craig Choate said. "Personally I don't care about being on the road, so we just have to suck it up and do it. That's just the way the schedule played out without the Fiesta Bowl but It will be nice to play two Pac-12 schools and will help prepare us for conference play."
NAU will not host the Fiesta Bowl Tournament for the first time since 2004 and just the third time since the tournament began in 1991. The squad will compete in three challenging road tournaments during the non-conference portion of their schedule, opening at the UNLV Invitational Aug. 24-25 in Las Vegas. The Lumberjacks will open the season with matches against The Citadel and CSU Bakersfield before closing against the host UNLV Rebels, who advanced to the championship match in the Mountain West championship tournament last year.
The following weekend the Lumberjacks will travel to Boulder, Colo. to face Fresno State, Cornell and Colorado, who NAU has not played since 1988 but is 2-1 against all-time. NAU will close its non-conference schedule in Berkeley, Calif. against UC Riverside and Penn before facing the host Cal Bears. Cal began the 2011 season ranked 3rd in nation in the AVCA poll and was the top-ranked team in the country for the first four weeks of the season after starting the year 13-0. The Bears ended the year ranked No. 16 in the country with a 26-7 record and lost just one senior from their 2011 roster.
The Lumberjacks will open conference play on Sept. 14 at Idaho State and will play their first home match of the season Sept. 20 vs. Sacramento State. The team will play its first Big Sky matches against new members Southern Utah on Sept. 24 in Cedar City and at North Dakota on Oct. 13. After starting conference play with five of their first six matches on the road, NAU will end the regular season with seven of their last 10 matches at home, closing with home dates with North Dakota and 2011 Big Sky champion Northern Colorado.
"At the end of the season it certainly won't be so bad not to travel," noted Choate. "It's going to be a hard swing in traveling to play the new teams, specifically the trip to Northern Colorado and North Dakota, but we'll be ready for it. Having the new teams in and expanding the tournament will make things interesting and I think it will add some excitement to the conference season."
The Big Sky championship will be played Nov. 23 and 24 and will be hosted by Northern Colorado by virtue of their 2011 Big Sky regular season championship. All of NAU's home matches will begin at 7 p.m. with the exception of Oct. 20 vs. Idaho State and the Nov. 17 regular season finale vs. Northern Colorado which will begin at 7:30 following 4:05 p.m. home football games.
"I like having more conference matches," added Choate. "We're so distant from everybody that we can't pick up the mid-week matches, but this way we get four more matches (two more home matches) and that's great for us. We've been playing an average of 25 matches and to increase to 29 will really make a difference."
NAU returns four starters (plus libero) and eight letter winners from the 2011 squad that broke school and Big Sky records with a 12-0 start and finished the season with 15 wins, equaling its most wins since 2000. All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selections Anna Gott and Sydney Kemper return with Gott one of five outstanding upperclassmen along with Kelli Dallmann, Lauren Campbell, Lexi Sullivan, and Jen Wilson who will be playing their senior seasons.