FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona volleyball team opens their brief spring schedule this weekend in Albuquerque, N.M. at the New Mexico Spring Tournament with four matches on Saturday. The Lumberjacks will play host New Mexico in addition to West Texas A&M and Adams State with their first match of the day against UNM alums at 9 a.m. Flagstaff time.
The team scrimmaged the NAU men's volleyball club team last weekend, earning victories in four of five sets, in preparation for this Saturday's busy tournament slate. The Lumberjacks will also welcome in-state rival Arizona State to the Rolle Activity Center next Saturday, April 12 for a spring match at 11:30 a.m. The match will be open to all fans and will be free to attend.
Since the Lumberjacks completed their season with an appearance in the Big Sky Championship quarterfinals in November, the team has focused on improving their defense. Another focal point has been the team's ability to put pressure on their opponents at the service line. In the team's scrimmage against the NAU men's club team, the Lumberjacks' improvement was evident and they hope to continue that this weekend.
"We want to see how many of the things we've been working on will transfer into match situations," said head coach Ken Murphy. "So far, we've seen a lot of big changes in the intensity we play with. It's been great that all of our players have specific goals in their minds in where they want to get better and they're not afraid to make changes. This team has really tackled the challenges of improvement and gotten to places where they're uncomfortable because they're creating new habits."
The Lumberjacks finished fourth in the conference with a 19-11 overall record, 13-7 in the Big Sky, in 2013 and return nine players in 2014, all of whom are playing this spring. Junior-to-be Janae Vander Ploeg headlines the returning Lumberjacks after a sensational sophomore season in which she earned All-Big Sky First Team and Big Sky Championship All-Tournament honors. Sydney Kemper, one of three seniors-to-be in 2014, was named All-Big Sky Honorable Mention.
This spring, the Lumberjacks have had the opportunity to incorporate one new face in Reese Laufasa. Laufasa, an incoming freshman from Bothell, Wash., joined the Lumberjacks this spring and has already displayed the great improvement working in the back row.
"We have [Reese] in a defensive role right now and that's a big focus for our team to improve in," Murphy said. "Like all of them, she's made a lot of improvements. Her first contact is substantially better than it was before. She's a tough kid and she fits in with us right away with her mentality."
Although this may only be a weekend full of spring matches, the team is anxious for a return to Albuquerque after not faring well back in September. The Lumberjacks posted a 1-2 mark over the two-day Lobo Invitational in the fall with three-set losses to Towson and New Mexico.
"We're excited about it especially because of our preseason tournament playing New Mexico (in the fall)," said senior-to-be Taylor Stephens. "We want to show them that we have definitely developed since then. Being a young team, seeing us grow has been cool."
2014 NAU Volleyball Spring Schedule:
Saturday, April 5 (New Mexico Spring Tournament – Albuquerque, N.M.):
9 a.m. – NAU vs. UNM Alums
10 a.m. – NAU vs. New Mexico
12 p.m. – NAU vs. Adams State
2 p.m. – NAU vs. West Texas A&M
Saturday, April 12 (Rolle Activity Center – Flagstaff, Ariz.):
11:30 a.m. – NAU vs. Arizona State*
*Match open to the public, free admission
All times local to Flagstaff