FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - With five seasoned seniors, three superb sophomores, a star-studded freshman class and a former top-100 sophomore transfer, the NAU Volleyball team will take the floor for the first time this weekend at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas. The Lumberjacks will open their 2012 campaign against the Citadel at 5 p.m. Friday before facing CSU Bakersfield at 10 a.m. Saturday and host UNLV at 7 p.m. that night in a match to be broadcast live on NAUAthletics.com.
"I just want to see us play hard and smart," said fifth year head coach Craig Choate. "You can't always control results but I want us to show up and play up to our abilities. Everybody gets tired of double-day practices and they just want to start playing and coaches aren't any different, so we're all looking forward to the weekend."
The Lumberjacks started 12-0 last season, sweeping their three non-conference tournaments and opening conference play with a trio of wins. In finishing the year with 15 wins, the Lumberjacks equaled the most wins in a season since 2001 and continued to build the quality of the program. The squad returns four starters (plus libero) and eight letter winners from last season, hoping to combine experience with young talent to ascend the Big Sky table.
NAU will rely heavily on the skill and experience of its five seniors looking to close their careers with a Big Sky championship. Lauren Campbell, Kelli Dallmann, Anna Gott, Lexi Sullivan, and Jen Wilson have combined for three All-Big Sky selections as members of Choate's first NAU recruiting class. Sullivan, who is a fifth-year senior after utilizing a medical redshirt in 2009, and Dallmann earned consecutive Big Sky Freshman of the Year awards in 2008 and 09, respectively. Both have been named All-Big Sky as has Gott, who earned her first All-Conference honor last year and is on pace to shatter NAU's career digs record this season.
Campbell has been a three-year contributor and last year became NAU's first All-American after being named to the Capital One Academic All-America Third Team. Wilson has been among NAU's most consistent performers throughout her career, averaging more than two kills per set as a Lumberjack and starting through each of her first three seasons. The leadership and performance of the group will no doubt be paramount in NAU's quest for the 2012 Big Sky title.
NAU will open its season against The Citadel, a school located in Charleston, S.C. that is a member of the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs were 8-22 overall in 2011 and just 1-15 in the Southern Conference but return three starters and 10 letter winners in 2012. Senior Rachael Farrell returns after leading the team with 2.24 digs per set and recording 2.15 kills per set in 2011, one of only two Bulldogs to average more than two kills per set.
CSU Bakersfield plays in the same season-opening tournament as NAU for the second consecutive year. Last August, the Lumberjacks opened their 2011 campaign with a 3-0 sweep of the Roadrunners at the Wolverine Invitational in Orem, Utah. CSU Bakersfield returns just four players from last season while adding six transfers and six freshmen in 2012. The squad has no seniors but eight juniors and lost its top-five hitters from last season.
The host UNLV Rebels return all but one starter this season after going 14-17 overall and 4-10 in the Mountain West in 2011. UNLV returns its best hitter in junior Madeline Westman who hit .290 last season while averaging 2.33 kills and 1.09 blocks per set. The Rebels also return three other players that averaged more than 1.9 kills per set last year as well as setter Stephanie Thelen and libero Allison Davies. Northern Arizona has not faced UNLV since 2003 and is 2-6 all-time against the Rebels.
All three matches will have live stats available on the NAU Volleyball schedule page. Saturday night's contest against UNLV will be broadcast live for free via the above link on NAUAthletics.com by Assistant Media Relations Director Andrew Tomsky.