FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The NAU Volleyball team (23-6, 15-5 Big Sky) will make its first postseason appearance since 2007 when it opens play Friday morning at the Banner Health NCMC Big Sky Championship in Greeley, Colo. The No. 3 seed in the tournament, the Lumberjacks will open play against sixth-seeded Montana State (15-13, 9-11 Big Sky) in the first quarterfinal match at 9 a.m. Friday morning and with a win would advance to face No. 2 Idaho State (22-7, 16-4 BSC) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
"I think they're ready to play," NAU head coach Craig Choate said. "We got the matchup we wanted to start with Montana State. The thing about tournaments is the matches almost all go four sets if not five and nobody is blowing anybody out, so it's going to be hard on every player and they have to be ready for it. If we show up, we can win this thing."
All of the Big Sky Championship matches will have live video streaming on Big Sky TV and live stats via the links above. If NAU makes the Big Sky Championship final, which will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, that match will also be broadcast live on nauathletics.com with Assistant Media Relations Director Andrew Tomsky providing the play-by-play with expanded pre and post-match coverage. For the most coverage of the Big Sky Championship follow @nauathletics on Twitter as well as #BigSkyVB and like NAU Athletics on Facebook.
NAU will be making its first appearance in the Big Sky Championship since 2007. The Lumberjacks have not won a postseason match since winning three times to claim the 1999 Big Sky Championship in Sacramento, the only Big Sky title in program history. The team has reached the Big Sky Championship final twice, winning in 1999 and losing in 1997 with both finals appearances occurring in Sacramento.
NAU is 7-10 all-time in the Big Sky championship but has lost its last six matches while two of those losses have come against Montana State. The Lumberjacks have never faced Portland State, Northern Colorado, or North Dakota in the Big Sky Championship and are 0-2 all-time vs. Montana State and 0-1 all-time against Idaho State.
Portland State won the 2012 Big Sky regular season title and will be the top seed in the Big Sky Championship as well as the host for the conference tournament next season. Idaho State finished second followed by Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, North Dakota and Montana State. Portland State and Northern Colorado both qualified for the postseason tournament for the seventh consecutive season.
The 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 23. 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 a .793 winning percentage this season and have clinched the best winning percentage in a season in program history as they look to go down as the best team in program history.
Facing the task of winning three road matches in two days will not faze the Lumberjacks as the team has played exceptionally well on the road this season and established a new program record with seven Big Sky road wins. NAU also has nine total road wins this season to tie the 1991 team for the most road wins in a season in program history. And in totaling a 15-4 record this year in matches away from Flagstaff (nine road wins, six neutral site wins), the Lumberjacks have combined for the most road and neutral site wins in a season since the 1991 team won 16 matches outside of Flagstaff and advanced to the NIVC national championship.
Montana State earned the final qualifying spot for the Big Sky Championship with a win over Montana on Monday in their final regular season match. The Bobcats will be making their first appearance in the conference championship since 2005 after they were picked to finish last in the Big Sky in the preseason coaches' poll. Two of NAU's three-previous Big Sky Championship matches, in 2003 and 2004, were against Montana State and were both sweeps for the Bobcats. Friday's meeting will be the first time that NAU has played MSU in the Big Sky Championship as the higher seed.
The Lumberjacks swept the Bobcats in two matches during the regular season, scoring a 3-0 win in Flagstaff and a 3-2 win in Bozeman. Freshman Janae Vander Ploeg totaled 24 kills, 17 digs, and nine blocks in the two matches and freshman Payton Bock hit .381 with 20 kills and 10 blocks. NAU outhit MSU .222 to .167 in the two matches and had a 3.00-1.75 advantage in blocks per set, totaling 44 blocks to 22 by the Bobcats. With two more wins this season NAU has now won 12 consecutive meetings with Montana State dating back to 2006.
A win over the Bobcats would advance the Lumberjacks to face No. 2 seed Idaho State in the semifinal round at 4:30 p.m. The Lumberjacks and Bengals have met once before in the Big Sky championship in a 3-1 ISU win in Moscow, Idaho in 1995. The Bengals missed the postseason tournament last year after making it in 2010 and losing in the semifinals. In the season series NAU and ISU each scored 3-1 wins on their home floor, as the Bengals hit .387 to win in Pocatello before the Lumberjacks held them to a .139 hitting percentage and had a 17-8 advantage in blocks to win in Flagstaff.
Over the two matches between the teams Idaho State held a .248-.213 advantage in hitting percentage and recorded more kills (16.50/set-12.50/set), assists (15.88/set-11.12/set) and digs (18.12/set-13.12/set) than the Lumberjacks while NAU had the advantage in blocks, 44-32. Sophomore Sydney Kemper led the Lumberjacks in the two matches with 3.00 kills and 0.88 blocks per set while hitting .442 and Bock averaged 2.12 kills and 1.75 blocks per set.