FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After his first three days of fall camp, first-year head coach Ken Murphy has learned one thing about his team – that they may be even better than they think of themselves. Considering the Northern Arizona volleyball team is coming off a 24-7 season and a third-place finish in the Big Sky, Murphy had high praise following his first look at his Lumberjacks.
"I think we're athletic and we have some really talented kids," Murphy said. "In some ways we don't even realize how physically gifted we are as a team. Part of our challenge right now is making us aware of how powerfully high above the net we could play the game."
Among the returning Lumberjacks in 2013 are sophomores Payton Bock and Janae Vander Ploeg. Bock heads into her second season as the reigning Big Sky Outstanding Freshman and represented the Lumberjacks on the All-Big Sky First Team after ranking fourth in the conference with a team-best 1.23 blocks per set. Murphy also has the luxury of returning Vander Ploeg, who was an All-Big Sky honorable mention selection following a season in which she led the team in kills at 3.16 per set, good for seventh in the conference.
Junior Sydney Kemper, a two-time All-Big Sky honorable mention honoree herself, is the third of three returning starters and is poised to give the Lumberjacks one of the conference's most formidable middles once again with Bock. In all, Murphy inherits a team that brings back four letterwinners and has used the first few days of practice to incorporate the team's five newcomers.
With the season opener two and a half weeks away, both Murphy and the team has used the first days of camp to get acclimated to one another as the Lumberjacks take the first small steps to building on last season's success.
"One of the things we've focused on is them getting used to my style and me getting used to the little things that I can do to help each player with as well as the team," Murphy said. "We're adjusting our style of play, making us a little more organized on the court. The team is fairly low-air, but finding more places where we understand what we're trying to do with the ball a little more will help us kill the ball more efficiently and make a few less errors."