FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU volleyball team (22-5, 14-4 Big Sky) will close its regular season on its home floor this week, first hosting North Dakota (15-14, 10-8 Big Sky) at 6 p.m. Thursday in Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks stand in third place in the Big Sky while North Dakota is fifth and NAU's opponent on Saturday, Northern Colorado (19-10, 12-6 Big Sky), is fourth as the three teams fight for seeding in the Big Sky Championship.
"It's just a hard weekend; when you look at the team stats the three of us are all kind of bunched relatively close," NAU head coach Craig Choate said. "I'm just hoping that the road will be a little bit harder for them. I think it's going to be a tough home stand so we'll have to be really focused and see how we do."
Thursday's match is Special Olympics of Arizona (SOAZ) night as free admission will be offered to all SOAZ athletes, partners, and staff. There will be a Unified Volleyball demo between the 2nd and 3rd sets and there will be an autograph session at the conclusion of the match. Special Olympics of Arizona will have an information table on site to help build community awareness and outreach of the organization. The NAU volleyball team will also be hosting a clinic with SOAZ in the near future.
The match will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona Plus and NAU-TV. FOX Sports Arizona Plus is available on basic cable and satellite (DirecTV 695, Dish 443) throughout Arizona as well as parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. FOX College Sports Pacific will air the match on tape delay at 10 p.m. and is available nationally on digital cable, while NAU-TV airs on Suddenlink Flagstaff cable channels 4 and 104 in HD. Mitch Strohman, Sharon Falor, and Heather Hodgeson will have the call as the broadcast will also stream live on bigskytv.org and NAU-TV.com with links to video and live stats above..
2012 Lumberjacks have reached 20 wins for just the third time in program history and now have the second most wins ever in season with 22. The 1982 squad finished with 21 wins and the 1991 team set the program record with 26 wins as it won the Big Sky Championship and advanced to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC). With a 26-8 overall record the 1991 team also holds the record for best season winning percentage at .765. The Lumberjacks currently have an .815 winning percentage this season and have at least three more matches as they look to go down as the best team in program history.
NAU has clinched a berth in the Big Sky championship as has Idaho State, Portland State, Northern Colorado, and North Dakota while the final qualifying spot remains undecided. At 14-4 the Lumberjacks are two wins ahead of Northern Colorado for third place in the conference and are one win behind Portland State and two wins back of league-leading Idaho State. Montana State, Southern Utah, and Sacramento State are all still alive for the final postseason berth.
The top six teams in the final conference standings will qualify for the Big Sky Championship, but under the new format the top two seeds will receive a bye into the semifinals while seeds three through six will have to win quarterfinal and semifinal matches on the first day of the tournament to advance to the finals. If the standings were to remain as they currently are, NAU would face Montana State in the quarterfinals.
The Lumberjacks end the regular season in the friendly confines of Rolle Activity Center, where they are 7-1 this season and have won 23 of 31 sets. NAU has hit .250 in its seven home dates while holding its opponents to a .139 hitting percentage and posting a 13.19-12.42 kills per set advantage. The team is also averaging more assists (12.35-11.81), blocks (3.10-2.18) and service aces (1.23-1.00) per set than its opponents in home matches and has committed 134 attack errors while forcing 226 from its opposition.
North Dakota secured a berth in the Big Sky Championship with a 3-1 win over Eastern Washington last Saturday, winning for the fourth time in its last five matches. North Dakota also swept Portland State last week, handing the Vikings just their third conference loss of the season, and the team is 4-4 in Big Sky road matches. NAU swept UND in Grand Forks on Oct. 13, posting a .246-.140 advantage in hitting percentage with freshman Payton Bock leading the way with nine kills and five blocks and sophomore Kalee Kirby tallying a double-double with 30 assists and 12 digs.
North Dakota ranks in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky in most statistical categories but is ninth with just 2.16 blocks per set. Setter Nikki Husfeldt is third in the Big Sky with 10.97 assists per set and libero Lauren Clark is fourth with 4.34 digs per set. NAU will be hosting North Dakota for the first time in program history on Thursday.