FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team capped off a perfect 3-0 homestand this week with a 25-17, 25-10, 25-19 sweep of Eastern Washington Saturday night at the Rolle Activity Center. The win pushed the Lumberjacks' record at home to 7-1 this season as they remain tied for second in the Big Sky with a 5-1 conference record through three weeks of Big Sky play.
"The best thing that I liked about tonight was that we started a little off our game and the team did a great job of recognizing that we were a little flat," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We had a quick (second) set and we kept improving as the match went on. We haven't always done that before so I'm really proud of them."
To begin the match, the two teams played even to 14-all before the Lumberjacks turned up their game. A kill by junior Taylor Stephens sparked a momentum-turning 7-0 run which included two service aces by junior Erin Truett. With a comfortable lead in hand, NAU sailed to the first set win eventually closing out the set by winning 11 of the final 15 points.
The momentum generated from the latter half of the first set carried over into the second set as the Lumberjacks hit .524 to take a 2-0 advantage in the match. After the teams traded the first four points, a 10-2 run that began with a kill and ended with an ace, both courtesy of Stephens, put NAU ahead 12-4. The lead would hit double-digits at 19-9 in the midst of a 10-1 run by the Lumberjacks to close out the set, which they clinched off a kill by freshman Addy Lofstedt.
Like the first set, the third set was knotted up at 14-14 – the set's tenth tie at that point. Eastern Washington won the next two points but the Lumberjacks answered with two points of their own. After what would be the last tie score of the match at 17-17, three consecutive Eagle errors was what NAU needed to take the lead for good. The Lumberjacks maintained their lead and finished the match with three straight points with kills from sophomores Payton Bock and Janae Vander Ploeg to round out the final scoring.
"This week boosts our confidence because we've been working on a lot in practice," Stephens said. "To implement that in three matches in one week was encouraging to see our improvement. It's exciting to play in front of our fans in the stands and that helps a lot too."
Kemper and Stephens led the charge offensively for NAU as they both hit above .500 for the match. Kemper's .533 percentage was coupled with her team-high nine kills in addition to eight digs, while Stephens hit .556 to go along with six kills and a match-high eight blocks. Truett continued her strong play at setter with 29 assists as she led the Lumberjacks to a .284 clip for the match.
NAU was once again exceptional defensively as it forced Eastern Washington into 32 attack errors against 31 kills. The Eagles' hitting percentage sat below zero at -.010 for the match, the fourth time in five matches in which the Lumberjacks' opponents hit below .100. While senior Lexie Schroeder tallied a match-high nine digs, the NAU block was once again a big reason for Eastern Washington's inefficiency. The Lumberjacks outblocked the Eagles, 8.0-2.0, and are now averaging 3.14 blocks per set in conference play.
"We've been talking about really changing the momentum of a match if we're aggressive with blocking," Murphy said. "We know when we're not aggressive, things get away from us so I give a lot of credit to our team for deciding that they wanted to raise their level (of blocking)."
The Lumberjacks, now 11-4 this season overall, will head back out on the road with matches at Montana State and Montana next Friday and Saturday.