FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Freshman Janae Vander Ploeg totaled 17 kills on a .395 hitting percentage and NAU hit .333 as a team in a 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-22) sweep of Southern Utah on Monday night in Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks are 6-0 at home this season and improved to 19-4 overall and 11-3 in the Big Sky to move within one win of clinching a berth in the Big Sky Championship.
"This was an important one to bounce back and I thought we played down a little bit but we were still pretty comfortable in one and two and handled it in the third," said NAU head coach Craig Choate. "I think we are so close to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that we have to get that second wind. You're supposed to protect home court, so mission accomplished for the first night."
The match began a stretch of three home matches in six days for the Lumberjacks, who rebounded from a five-set loss at Sacramento State on Saturday to win comfortably. Vander Ploeg added six digs and four blocks to her stat line while senior Kelli Dallmann posted 11 kills and seven digs. Sophomore Sydney Kemper added nine kills on a .500 hitting percentage and setter Kalee Kirby had 46 assists and seven digs. With 11 digs in the match, senior Anna Gott moved to fourth in Big Sky history with 1,736 career digs.
The Thunderbirds had no blocks through the first two sets and were outblocked 10.0-6.0 for the match. The visitors hit .144 for the night and did not record a single service ace or error while NAU had the upper hand in digs and totaled a 51-35 advantage in kills.
NAU set the tone early with a .469 hitting percentage in the first set while holding Southern Utah to a .091 attack percentage. The Lumberjacks turned an early 5-4 lead into a 21-8 cushion with a 16-4 run through the middle of the set, and though the Thunderbirds made a bit of a push a kill by Kemper ended the set to give NAU the early lead.
A quick 10-5 Lumberjack lead in the second set forced an SUU timeout, and the Thunderbirds responded with a 7-0 run to move ahead 12-10. After leveling the set at 13-13, NAU went on a 5-0 spurt to build an 18-13 cushion. Southern Utah got back within a 20-16 deficit but NAU ended the set on a 5-1 run to build a 2-0 advantage.
Southern Utah would not go away quietly and led early in the third set buy as large as a 12-7 margin. The Lumberjacks chipped away at the deficit and drew even at 16-16 after a 9-4 spurt as Dallmann totaled seven kills on a .545 hitting percentage in the set. With the score still even at 18-18 NAU won the next four points and would reach match point at 24-20. After the Thunderbirds withstood two match points an NAU block by Vander Ploeg and freshman Payton Bock, her match-best sixth block of the night, gave the Lumberjacks the win.
NAU can clinch its first Big Sky Championship berth since 2007 when it hosts Eastern Washington at 7 p.m. Thursday in Rolle Activity Center in a match to be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona, FOX College Sports, and NAU-TV.