FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – NAU freshman Janae Vander Ploeg totaled five of her team-high 20 kills in the decisive fifth set as NAU rallied from down 11-7 in the fifth to pull off a 3-2 (25-23, 25-27, 25-17, 21-25, 15-13) win over North Dakota on Thursday in Rolle Activity Center. The win clinched at least a third place Big Sky finish for the Lumberjacks as they improved to 15-4 in conference play and 23-5 overall while North Dakota dropped to 10-9 in the Big Sky and 15-15 for the season.
"Every time we get in trouble it's when somebody starts serving super tough and we don't match them," NAU head coach Craig Choate said. "They just served be bees at us and they kept them in and it made it hard on us. We outhit them but that kept them in the game, but it's a 'w' at the end of the night and that's all that matters for us."
Vander Ploeg hit .308 for the match with 20 kills and just four attack errors in 52 swings to record her fourth 20-kill match of the season. She also finished with nine digs and four blocks while NAU got double-doubles from senior Kelli Dallmann (13 kills, 13 digs) and sophomore Kalee Kirby (51 assists, 10 digs). Senior Anna Gott totaled 29 digs to bring her career total to 1,843 digs and move her into third all-time in Big Sky history in career digs.
NAU outhit UND .187-.140 for the match and held the visitors to hitting percentages below .170 in four of five sets. North Dakota did have an 18-11 advantage in blocks and the teams finished even with 59 kills apiece with North Dakota totaling nine service aces to three aces for Northern Arizona.
In the decisive fifth set NAU started strong in building a 7-3 lead. North Dakota then went on what appeared to be an insurmountable 8-0 run, which included five blocks, to take an 11-7 lead and force the final NAU timeout. The Lumberjacks responded with a 5-1 run to even the set at 12-12 and NAU would take a 13-12 lead on a Vander Ploeg kill. After UND tied it at 13-13 Vander Ploeg recorded two more kills to give NAU the win.
Both teams hit match-bests in the first set, with NAU finishing at .324 and North Dakota hitting .333. North Dakota jumped to a 7-3 lead and held a 12-9 advantage before the Lumberjacks came back to level the set at 16-16. The set remained even to 23-23 before NAU benefited by a UND ball handling error and got a kill from sophomore Sydney Kemper to take a 1-0 lead.
There were 16 ties and seven lead changes in a back-and-forth second set as neither team led by more than three points and the set remained even to 23-23. NAU fended off a first set point down 24-23 and a second down 25-24 to even the set at 25. North Dakota was outhit .265 to .103 in the set but totaled five service aces in the stanza, as a North Dakota kill followed by a service aces gave the visitors a 27-25 set to even the match at 1-1.
The third set was again close as NAU held a slim 15-14 lead following the media timeout. The Lumberjacks went on a 5-1 run from there to pull ahead to a 20-15 margin and moved to a 24-16 lead as the run extended to 9-2. After North Dakota fought off one set point an NAU kill by senior Lexi Sullivan gave the home team a 2-1 lead.
North Dakota's blocking took over in the fourth set as NAU hit -.026 with eight attack errors in the set forced by five UND blocks. The Lumberjacks did have an early 12-9 lead in the set before North Dakota evened the score and took a 16-14 lead following a 7-2 spurt. The Lumberjacks came back to even the set at 18-18 but a 5-2 run gave North Dakota a 23-20 lead en route to a 25-21 set to force the fifth.
Northern Arizona closes the regular season hosting Northern Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on senior night. The Bears, who will host the Big Sky Championship next week, are fourth in the Big Sky and improved to 13-6 in conference play with a sweep at Southern Utah on Thursday.