FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team fought back from a 2-0 deficit to force a decisive fifth set, but Northern Colorado halted the Lumberjacks' comeback bid there as the Bears escaped the Rolle Activity Center with a 25-21, 25-15, 24-26, 20-25, 15-12 victory Thursday night. The Lumberjacks fell to 6-3 in the Big Sky with the five-set defeat and 12-6 overall heading into their match against Big Sky leading North Dakota on Saturday.
"We played at a much lower level than we're capable of in the first two sets," said head coach Ken Murphy. "But we went in the locker room relaxed and focused on improving in some key areas, particularly blocking. Once we did that, we got better throughout the match."
The Lumberjacks let one slip away in the first set as the Bears turned a late five-point deficit around into a four-point victory. NAU broke open a 13-13 tie with a 5-0 run that began with a UNC service error. A tandem block by juniors Sydney Kemper and Taylor Stephens, then separate kills by the duo around a service ace by junior Erin Truett put NAU ahead 18-13 before Northern Colorado began its climb back. The two teams would find themselves even at 21 before UNC finished with four straight points.
UNC would easily win the second set courtesy of an 8-1 run that put the visitors ahead 24-13. The Bears would clinch on their third set point, but the Lumberjacks were regrouped after the intermission. Although UNC appeared to take control of the set with six consecutive points to surge ahead 14-10, the Lumberjacks inched their way back in large part due to their block.
With just 2.0 team blocks through two sets, the Lumberjacks picked up 5.0 blocks in the third set. Back-to-back blocks by sophomore Payton Bock and freshman Addy Lofstedt helped NAU tie the match at 19-19 and later Stephens and freshman Jensen Barton combined for two blocks in three points to put the Lumberjacks ahead 23-22. UNC eventually tied it at 24-24, but sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg's kill plus an error by the Bears gave NAU its first set win.
NAU's block once again ignited in the fourth set as it recorded 9.0 blocks to force a fifth set. The Lumberjacks never trailed in the fourth set as it steadily rode their block in addition to Vander Ploeg's arm to the victory. Vander Ploeg totaled six kills in the set alone in addition to three solo blocks as the Lumberjacks carried all the momentum heading into the fifth set.
The fifth set was evenly played from the start though as the teams saw themselves tied at 9-9, the seventh tie of the set. Three straight points for UNC though was what the Bears needed though in what turned out to be a three-point final margin.
NAU hit .188 for the match while Northern Colorado hit .210. Vander Ploeg led the way with 18 kills as Bock, Kemper and Stephens all came up one kill shy of cracking double-digits. Barton came off the bench to hand out 27 assists and narrowly missed her first career double-double with nine digs. The Lumberjacks did outblock the Bears, 17.0-10.0, and equaled their season-high with Stephens posting a match-high and career-best nine blocks. Henry posted her third straight 20-plus dig match with a career-high 24 in the team's defeat.
"Whether we win or lose we want to recognize the times when we're not playing like ourselves and fixing them in the way that we can," Murphy said. "We did a really good job of that tonight and we want to continue to learn lessons and get better."
The Lumberjacks will host North Dakota Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Fans who show their ticket from the NAU homecoming football game at the Rolle will receive free admission to the match. UND remained undefeated (9-0) in the conference after sweeping Southern Utah Thursday night.