CEDAR CITY, Utah – The Northern Arizona volleyball team brought the muscle at the net, overpowering Southern Utah in all facets on their way to an easy 25-19, 25-15, 25-14 sweep Saturday morning to complete a perfect opening weekend of conference play. The Lumberjacks, now 12-3 overall, wrapped up a 2-0 Big Sky start for the third time in four seasons and won their fifth straight match, equaling a season-long win streak.
"Today was a really consistent on our side," said head coach Ken Murphy. "We played with a lot of intensity and it was a tough environment to play in. Southern Utah had a great crowd, so I was really proud of how we were able to focus on our side of the net."
NAU's offense was in tune all match with senior Jensen Barton setting the attack to a .368 percentage. The Lumberjacks were able to take care of business despite a rare performance from senior Lauren Jacobsen – who still managed to record a team-high 10 kills in spite of hitting just .161 – with the rest of their hitters hitting at least .350.
On the other side of the net, redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey and Barton led a dominant blocking effort with NAU notching 13.0 team blocks – its second highest total this season. Dorsey and Barton both finished one block shy of their career-highs with eight and seven respectively. Freshman Abby Akin and senior Addy Lofstedt also provided blocking insurance with nine combined between them, as Southern Utah was only able to muster up a .115 hitting percentage.
The Lumberjacks' complete control of the match showed as they picked up their sixth consecutive victory over the Thunderbirds. NAU surged out to a 4-1 lead to open the match, but Southern Utah hung tight trailing just 13-11. The 'Jacks then used a four-point spurt to provide themselves with cushion and they finished the set on a 7-2 run to claim the 1-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds strung together their best stretch of the match to start the second set, holding an 8-5 advantage. Akin ignited a momentum-shifting 5-0 run with a kill, and freshman Sydney Lema followed with two kills of her own that put NAU in front for good. Lema continued her torrid second set with a pair of aces during a 5-0 run that increased NAU's lead to 17-10. The Lumberjacks wound up taking 20 of the final 27 points of the second set after facing their largest deficit.
Lema took the first serve out of the intermission and immediately led NAU to a 7-0 lead. The 'Jacks never trailed in the final game, and recorded five of their 13 team blocks to stifle the Thunderbird attack. Dorsey, Akin, Barton and Lofstedt all recorded multiple blocks, with Dorsey fittingly ending the match with a solo stuff to cap a set-closing 8-2 run.
While Jacobsen recorded 10 kills and 14 digs to notch her 11th double-double, the Lumberjacks' offensive distribution was on point. Lema finished a kill shy of a double-double herself, pounding nine kills on a season-high .450 hitting percentage. Lofstedt contributed eight kills on .353 hitting, while Barton and Akin both added seven kills with just one error between them on 22 swings.
Defensively in the backrow, Jacobsen, sophomore Jordan Anderson (12) and Lema (11) all tallied double-digit digs as NAU outdug Southern Utah, 48-37.
"Our offense was a little more diverse today," Murphy said. "We understood our defensive plan going in and we attacked it from the beginning. Today showed me that we're ready to keep moving through the season as we continue to improve and take on challenges."
NAU returns home for just its second homestand of the season this upcoming week, starting with a rematch of the Big Sky Tournament Championship on Thursday. NAU and Idaho State, last season's tournament finalists, will square off in the Rolle Activity Center at 7 p.m. The Lumberjacks will then take on Weber State next Saturday at 3 p.m.
Thursday's match will be themed "80's Fitness Night" with the first 250 students receiving Lumberjack headbands. The first 250 fans will receive blue and gold leis on Saturday as part of NAU's "Blue Out Beach Day," in addition to the match being the volleyball team's Faculty Appreciation match.