Volleyball Senior Night:
Opponent: Montana State (Saturday, Nov. 16/7:30 p.m.)
Location: Rolle Activity Center – Flagstaff, Ariz.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The 2013 Northern Arizona volleyball team has navigated their way and overcome a number of obstacles throughout the season. The Lumberjacks have endured several injuries to a roster just 11 players deep. The squad returned just three starters from last year's Big Sky semifinal team and was young and relatively inexperienced. There was also a brand new coaching staff that needed to incorporate themselves into the program.
Through it all though, the Lumberjacks are on their way to the Big Sky Championship tournament for the second consecutive year after defeating Montana on Thursday. Two big reasons for the team's growth throughout the season has been the leadership and play displayed by their two graduating seniors, Lexie Schroeder and Erin Truett, who will play their final home matches of their careers on Saturday versus Montana State.
"They're both steady and mature players and they come to work every day," said head coach Ken Murphy. "The other important thing is that they've adapted to the things we've tried to change this year as easily as anybody on the team. When you think about players that are a little more experienced, they might be more resistant but they've set a really good example for the rest of our program that no matter where you're at, you have to continue to keep working and learning."
During Murphy's first season at NAU, Schroeder and Truett have been steady players that he has been able to rely on to help guide this year's young Lumberjack unit. Come Saturday night when the pair will be honored prior to NAU's home finale, it will recognize the careers of two players that have experienced their own obstacles. But as has the entire team this season, both Schroeder and Truett have prevailed to shine in their final seasons.
Schroeder has enjoyed the best season of her career in 2013, one year after stepping away from the game all together. The Corona Del Sol High School product out of Tempe, Ariz. was a steady contributor in the NAU back row through her first three seasons from 2009-11 as she averaged 1.81 digs per set. She posted her highest dig average of 2.09 per set as a freshman, a season in which she also notched a career-high 17 service aces. By the time she was a junior she tallied her highest season dig total of 185 while seeing action in a career-high 100 sets. However after not competing in what would have been her senior season in 2012, Schroeder returned to the Lumberjacks and has provided the team with a huge boost after suffering a setback to begin the year.
"If you look at the depth of our team, the position where we're the thinnest at is receiving serve and I can't imagine us playing without Lexie," Murphy said. "We've been so much better with her on the court with her receive and defense. She has had a huge impact on our growth as a team this second half of the season."
Since missing the first 11 matches of the season due to an injury, Schroeder made her season debut at the absolute best time at Sacramento State on Sept. 27. Filling in for an injured Trianna Henry, she made her first career start at libero that night and wore the team's gold jersey in each of her first four matches. In her second match of the season, she tied her career-high of 16 digs against Southern Utah and then set a new best with 17 digs the following match in NAU's sweep of Portland State. Schroeder would reset her career-high one more time on Oct. 12 at Montana, recording 18 digs. With her final campaign winding down, the defensive specialist has started every match she's played in this year and is averaging a career-best 2.70 digs per set and is on pace to top her 185 total digs in 2011.
"This year has meant a lot because last year although I wanted to finish off school without playing volleyball, it was hard for me to watch the team play," Schroeder said. "To come back and play my senior year has been awesome. It's been really fun and it's been a great experience. I love NAU and the atmosphere here."
While Schroeder has dealt with her share of adversities, Truett has defeated all odds to make a difference for the Lumberjacks on the court this season. Once a top-100 prep volleyball player in the nation at Millennium High School in Goodyear, Ariz., Truett did not play her senior season due to an injury. Despite not playing as a high school senior, Truett made her way to Kansas State where she once again was forced to sit out due to her injury. One year later, she found herself back in-state at Phoenix's South Mountain Community College where she was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region team and the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Division-II second team.
After one year there, Truett transferred to NAU in 2012 for her third school in as many years. She did not play all of last year and saw action in just two sets this season until her opportunity came in the Lumberjacks' final non-conference tournament of the season from Sept. 6 and 7 in Albuquerque, N.M. at the Lobo Invitational. With Jensen Barton unavailable due to an injury, Truett made her first three starts of her NAU career and she shined. She recorded 32 assists in her first start leading NAU to a sweep of Abilene Christian and also contributed defensively with 2.22 digs per set through NAU's three matches that weekend.
"Out of all the girls on our team, I'm happiest for Erin because she's been able to complete her career the way she has," Murphy said. "She's impacted our team in a major way and has had a lot to do with our success this year. She's really talented and she's a great person and I'm just so happy that she's been able to feel some of the rewards for all the work she's put in."
Truett has split time with Barton this season at the setter spot and has earned 11 starts, playing in 16 matches. After the Lobo Invitational, she continued to start the team's first two Big Sky matches and was pivotal in the Lumberjacks' conference-opening five-set victory over Idaho State on Sept. 19 when she set career-highs in assists (48) and digs (9). Truett would reset her career-high with 57 assists at Montana on Oc. 12 and tallied her first double-double last Monday at Southern Utah with 47 assists and a career-best 16 digs. It may have been a long road, but it's been gratifying for the native of Goodyear, Ariz., who enters her final home match averaging 9.43 assists, 1.93 digs and 0.48 blocks per set.
"It's meant a lot to finally come back after this long journey," Truett said. "To be able to play and be with an amazing group of people that have been really supportive in helping me get back on the court means a lot. The atmosphere and the teammates I've had here have led to a great experience at NAU."
In May, Schroeder and Truett will earn their degrees – Schroeder's in management and marketing with a minor in biology and Truett's in exercise science – and begin their post-volleyball careers.
The Lumberjacks may have bigger goals to cross off their list before this season comes to a close, but it is clear that this duo has laid a foundation for the new era of NAU volleyball.