OGDEN, Utah – The Northern Arizona volleyball team overcame a slow start Thursday night and finished with a flurry in sweeping Weber State, 26-24, 25-17, 25-13, on the road at Swenson Gym. The Lumberjacks picked up an important first win to the final half of conference play in moving to 14-6 this season and 8-3 in the Big Sky.
"We kept working as the match went on and that was most impressive," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We knew we were a little out of sorts at the beginning but by the third set we were in a really good rhythm both offensively and defensively and I really liked how our team kept working for it and got better."
The opening set was a back-and-forth affair as it featured 13 ties while both NAU and Weber State exchanged the lead eight times. Yet it was the Lumberjacks who outlasted the Wildcats while hitting just .158 for the set and fending off two set points. Clinging to a 10-9 advantage, the Lumberjacks rattled off four consecutive points beginning with back-to-back kills by junior Sydney Kemper and sophomore Payton Bock to take their biggest lead of the set, 14-9. However after a timeout by the home team, the Wildcats answered to regain the lead 16-15. It was then NAU's turn to respond as it came out of its own timeout with another 4-0 spurt only for Weber State to once again pull even at 19-19.
The Wildcats would eventually step to the service line to serve for set point at 24-22, but a service error gave sideout to the Lumberjacks. A block by Bock and freshman Jensen Barton brought the score to 24-24 before kill from Bock and an ace by Kemper completed NAU's first-set comeback.
That momentum would prove to be critical as the Lumberjacks were able to break open a tight second set early with improved play on both the attack and the defense. Utilizing consistent play, the Lumberjacks slowly opened up a five-point lead at 12-7 that they would maintain throughout the rest of the set. Senior Lexie Schroeder's two service aces was part of a 6-0 run that put NAU ahead 24-14 and after Weber State fought off three set points, sophomore Janae Vander Ploeg slammed her seventh kill of the match off the WSU block to cap the set.
The Lumberjacks controlled the third set and used an 18-4 run to turn an initial two-point deficit into a 21-9 lead before cruising to their 12th three-set sweep of the season. NAU hit a match-best .367 in the third set and forced Weber State to hit .000 as the Lumberjacks' hitting percentage rose in each set as the match progressed.
"The environment tonight was tough; they had a good crowd," Murphy said. "We had to fight a lot of distractions and I thought we handled that well. We're going to have to do even more of that on Saturday (at Idaho State)."
For the match, NAU hit .258 and held Weber State to .114. Barton had a fantastic all-around performance as she recorded 22 assists in addition to six kills, five digs, three blocks and a service ace all while hitting .750 without committing an error. Vander Ploeg narrowly missed a double-double with a team-high nine kills to go along with nine digs while Kemper hit .353 in totaling seven kills. Sophomore Trianna Henry finished with a team-high 10 digs.
The Lumberjacks will look to sweep their two matches this week on Saturday when they travel to Pocatello, Idaho to face Idaho State. NAU prevailed in five sets over Idaho State last month at home and the two teams entered the week tied for third in the Big Sky standings.