FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A return home to the Rolle Activity Center was exactly what the Northern Arizona volleyball team needed. After an up-and-down road trip last week, the Lumberjacks enjoyed the confines of their home gym in ramping up a 25-17, 22-25, 25-16, 25-18 victory over Portland State behind a huge presence at the net. The 'Jacks upped their record to 16-4 overall and 6-1 in the Big Sky.
"Last weekend was a little bit of an off weekend and our team responded really well in practice this week," said head coach Ken Murphy. "Our team decided that we didn't want to be one of those teams who went through those mid-season doldrums. Tonight was our first response of many I hope."
Following two matches in which they were outblocked by both Eastern Washington and Idaho on their road trip, the Lumberjacks were easily the aggressors on Thursday night, notching a season-best 16.0 team blocks – their highest total in just over a year since recording 16.0 last Oct. 10 at Montana State. NAU's middle blocking tandem of redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey and Abby Akin overwhelmed the Vikings with Akin leading the way with eight blocks, while Dorsey was in on seven stuffs. Senior Addy Lofstedt teamed with Dorsey and Akin on a number of occasions, totaling a career-high seven blocks herself.
As a result, Portland State committed 33 attack errors – the third-most by an NAU opponent this season – and was held down to a .119 hitting percentage for the match.
"I was so impressed with how aggressive we were at the net," Murphy said. "We were blocking aggressively and we swung really aggressively. We've talked about when we play that way, we're really hard to beat. I hope we're proving to ourselves little by little that that's the level we want to play."
The block party was in full effect from the start with the 'Jacks posting an astounding seven blocks in the opening set. Even when NAU was not getting hands on the ball, it altered Portland State's shots resulting in errors. Five Viking attack errors aided a pivotal 8-0 run that turned a one-point NAU lead into a 15-6 advantage with sophomore Jordan Anderson at the service line. Dorsey and Lofstedt combined for two blocks during the run and Lofstedt slammed down three kills in completely flipping the set in NAU's favor. Two additional blocks by redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson ultimately capped a 12-1 Lumberjack run that had the home team on a high entering the second game.
The momentum carried into an 8-4 lead before the Vikings seized control with a 5-0 run and 12 of the next 16 points in all. Consecutive kills by senior Lauren Jacobsen started a brief NAU run down 16-12 with a Jorgenson kill tying the second game at 19-19. After the Vikings rattled off three straight points, the Lumberjacks answered with three points of their own – the final coming on a Jacobsen and Dorsey block – before the visitors closed with a final 3-0 run to even the match.
Needing a response after Portland State hit .286 in the second set, NAU clamped down defensively once again in the final two sets. The 'Jacks came out of the intermission on a 10-3 run and kept the advantage throughout leading by as much as 11 points. The Vikings managed just nine kills in the third game after posting 20 in their lone set win as they failed to slow down the Lumberjacks.
The teams alternated points to open the fourth set before NAU all but put away Portland State with a five-point surge that broke a 2-2 tie. Akin was in on three blocks during the fourth game in which the Lumberjacks led 22-11. The Vikings failed to go quietly into the night with a 6-1 run that forced an NAU timeout following a service ace. Jorgenson responded with a kill out of the stoppage and one point later, ended the match with a tool off the Viking block.
"This week at practice we talked about being the aggressors," Lofstedt said. "We talked about being aggressive while taking smart shots. Last week we didn't play well and we knew we had to turn it on tonight."
Jacobsen led three Lumberjacks in double-figure kills offensively with a dozen, while Jorgenson and Lofstedt each tallied 10. Senior Jensen Barton came up a kill shy of what would have been her third triple-double of the season with 40 assists, 17 digs and nine kills while setting the NAU attack to a .255 hitting percentage. Barton, Lofstedt, Akin and Dorsey all hit at least .385 in the match as the offense was in tune along with the defense.
Along with Barton's 10th double-double of the season, Jacobsen posted her Big Sky leading 15th with 15 digs in addition to her 12 kills.
The Lumberjacks head into Saturday's 12 p.m. match with Sacramento State in the Rolle Activity Center in sole possession of first place in the Big Sky South Division following the Hornets' five-set loss at Southern Utah on Thursday. Sacramento State is a game behind NAU with a 5-2 conference record entering Saturday's match, which will be end of the first half of Big Sky play.