GREELEY, Colo. – Senior Kelli Dallmann and sophomore Kalee Kirby recorded double-doubles and NAU responded from a first set loss to claim the three ensuing sets to score a 3-1 (17-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-17) win over two-time defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado on Thursday night in Greeley, Colo. NAU moved into sole possession of third place in the conference at 7-2 in the Big Sky and 15-3 overall as the Bears moved to 6-3 in the Big Sky and 13-5 on the season.
"This win is the best one we've had since I've been here," said fifth-year NAU head coach Craig Choate. "Both teams played well but we just played a little better. Pregame I said to them, 'we're a very good team but we're not elite until we get either Portland State or Northern Colorado,' and that's what they did. They're working so hard and they're playing so smart and I just love watching them play."
Dallmann totaled 16 kills and 12 digs in the match while hitting .302 and Kirby finished with 49 assists and 10 digs as both recorded their eight double-double of the seasons. Freshman Janae Vander Ploeg added 12 kills and nine digs while freshman Payton Bock also posted 12 kills and a team-high six blocks. NAU recorded a .234-.165 advantage in hitting percentage to earn the win despite higher block, dig, and assist totals posted by Northern Colorado.
The Bears outhit the Lumberjacks .306 to .150 in the opening set to take the early lead. NAU had an early 7-6 lead but a 6-0 run gave Northern Colorado a 12-7 lead. The Lumberjacks battled back to get within three points at 19-16, but after a UNC timeout the home team used a 5-0 spurt to take a 24-16 lead en route to a 25-17 set win.
After the Bears scored the first point of the second set NAU went on a 5-0 run and eventually extended to a 7-2 advantage. The Lumberjacks maintained a comfortable lead to an 18-11 score before a 3-0 run got the Bears to within an 18-14 deficit. NAU would not let UNC get any closer than that as, after the Bears withstood a pair of set points, Vander Ploeg delivered a kill to even the match at 1-1.
The teams traded leads through most of the third set, which totaled 12 ties and seven lead changes, as the score was even at 19-19. The Lumberjacks capitalized on three consecutive Northern Colorado attack errors to take a 22-19 lead and then held a 23-21 lead. The Lumberjacks hit a match-high .324 in the set, and a kill from Vander Ploeg followed by a block from Vander Ploeg and Bock ended the set to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.
Northern Colorado jumped to a 3-0 lead in the fourth and maintained a lead until the Lumberjacks knotted the score at 8-8. The set remained level to 11-11 before NAU built an 18-13 lead following a 7-2 spurt. The Bears would get no closer than four points for the remainder of the frame as they hit a match-low .102 in the set with 10 attack errors, including one on match point as Vander Ploeg and sophomore Sydney Kemper combined for a match-clinching block.
The win was the first for NAU over Northern Colorado, the 2011 Big Sky champion that will host the 2012 Big Sky Championship, since 2008. The Lumberjacks close the first half of conference play at 5 p.m. Saturday in their first ever meeting with North Dakota, which improved to 5-4 in conference and 10-10 overall with a 3-0 win on Thursday over Southern Utah.