FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Homecoming excitement was in the air and sole possession of first place in the Big Sky South was on the line. The atmosphere was set and the Northern Arizona volleyball team rose to the occasion, piling up an impressive sweep of Sacramento State Saturday morning, 27-25, 25-18, 25-14. The Lumberjacks finish the first half of conference play with a 7-1 conference record and are two games ahead of the Hornets, who dropped to 5-3 in Big Sky play.
"We have to keep building on today but it definitely sends a signal that we're going in the right direction and that we've learned from what we've gone through this season so far," said head coach Ken Murphy. "If we can build on the effort that we had today, we have a high ceiling with this team and our potential is unlimited."
With a chance to pull even with NAU in the standings, Sacramento State was stifled offensively all day as the Lumberjacks claimed their 23rd consecutive victory in the Rolle Activity Center. NAU once again followed the lead of its middle blockers – redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey and freshman Abby Akin – at the net and received strong back row play by sophomore Jordan Anderson and freshman Sydney Lema to frustrate Sacramento State's offense which led the Big Sky in kills. On Saturday, the 'Jacks outkilled the Hornets, 41-35, while posting a significant advantage in hitting percentage at .237-.087.
"Both teams are really strong defensively and Sac State is a really good team," Murphy said. "A lot of the points came down to who could make one more play and who could stick with it one more time and be aggressive. I thought today that team was us."
Based on the look of the first set featuring 12 ties and five lead changes, the match appeared to be one that was destined to go the distance although that proved to be far from the truth. Both squads were forced to figure each other out offensively with 15 combined attack errors in the set and neither team led by as much as two points throughout the entirety of the opening game. After Akin put NAU at set point, 24-22, Sacramento State staved off two points to force extra play. Senior Addy Lofstedt and redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson would finish the first set with kills and electrified the home crowd in the process.
Dorsey's service pressure immediately forced an early Sacramento State timeout after NAU raced out to a 5-1 lead in the second set. The Lumberjack lead grew to 11-4 and the 'Jacks never looked back. The Hornets did manage to close to 14-11, but the Lumberjacks responded with five of the next seven points to double their lead and eventually take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was tied at 8-8 – the seventh tie score of the game – until Dorsey and senior Jensen Block ramped up the energy with an emphatic block. Lema then stepped to the service line and four points later – two coming on aces – NAU held a 13-8 lead that it never gave back. After being held to just three total kills in the first two sets, senior Lauren Jacobsen ripped through the Hornet defense with four third set kills to lead the charge towards the sweep. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Hannah Cherry closed the match with four straight points at the service line as NAU defeated Sacramento State on its home court for the eighth straight time.
"We didn't take one point off today," Jorgenson said. "This was one of the first matches we can say we played every point the same. Today was huge because we're starting to get into a groove. We can just keep building forward now, especially after today's match."
Jorgenson was the lone Lumberjack in double-digit kills with 13, resetting her career-high for the second time in three matches. Barton distributed 33 assists and found NAU's hitters with Akin, Lofstedt and Jacobsen all recording at least seven kills.
Defensively, Anderson led NAU with 15 digs while Akin had two solo stuffs among her match-high five blocks. Dorsey and Barton also chipped in three blocks apiece as NAU held a 9.0-3.0 block advantage. The 'Jacks also outaced the Hornets at the line, 7-2, with Cherry and Lema both tallying two aces.
NAU, now 17-4 overall this season, is back in the Rolle Activity Center next week with matches versus Montana State on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Montana on Saturday at 12 p.m.