ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team responded from its first loss of the season with a three-set sweep of Abilene Christian in the opening match of the Lobo Invitational to improve to 6-1 this season. The Lumberjacks picked up their sixth sweep of the season, 25-19, 26-24, 25-11, and finished the match with authority with a .636 hitting percentage in the third set, the program's third-best hitting percentage in sets 1-4 since 2001.
"We had some pieces of our offense that weren't connecting quite right in the first two sets," said head coach Ken Murphy. "But we played really good defense in those first two sets and won by just outworking them. Abilene Christian did a really good job of defending us and making us work and it was a challenge for us to match that, but we did a great job of that."
The Lumberjacks broke open an early first set 5-5 tie by winning seven of the next nine points. With a comfortable five-point lead at 12-7, NAU would maintain its edge throughout the remainder of the set, eventually building it up to as much as seven, despite hitting just .122. In spite of its low percentage, the Lumberjacks were aided by 11 Wildcat attack errors as they utilized five of their eight team blocks for the match to force Abilene Christian to a -.083 clip.
Abilene Christian bounced back in the second set and held a steady lead throughout until a late Lumberjack rally turned the tide. NAU trailed 21-16 following an ACU kill, but strung together seven straight points after a kill by freshman Addy Lofstedt put her at the service line. With Lofstedt serving, NAU surged ahead 23-21 before the Wildcats evened the set at 23-all. After the teams alternated points forcing a win-by-two situation, junior Sydney Kemper put down a kill and then paired with junior Taylor Stephens to stuff Jennifer Loerch to put NAU up 2-0 in the match.
NAU's late momentum carried over into the third set and it could not be stopped offensively. The Lumberjacks totaled 14 kills on 22 swings without an error as a team led by sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg's four kills while hitting .667. NAU used an 8-0 run to take a 16-6 lead that would not get below 10 points the rest of the way as it was not only stellar offensively but it held Abilene Christian to .000 hitting in the final set. The .636 percentage only trails the .750 percentage that the Lumberjacks recorded in the third set against Montana in 2003 and the .652 clip in the first set against Montana last year. It was the program's 10th best single-set hitting percentage overall since 1987.
For the match, the Lumberjacks hit .228 and held the Wildcats to just .019, which is the third match this season that an NAU opponent has hit less than .100. Vander Ploeg led the team with a match-high 13 kills while sophomore Trianna Henry recorded a team-high 12 digs. Junior Erin Truett made her first career start at setter and handed out 32 assists in addition to seven digs and three blocks and was the driving force behind NAU's offensive show in the third set.
"Erin did great and she got better as the match went on," Murphy said. "She got into a good flow in the third set in terms of distributing the ball accurately and our offense really clicked and a lot of that had to do with Erin."
The Lumberjacks will play a doubleheader on Saturday to close out the Lobo Invitational beginning at 9:30 a.m. PST against Towson. NAU will then play host New Mexico in the tournament finale at 6:30 p.m.