POCATELLO, Idaho – Senior Jensen Barton tallied her third triple-double of the season, but the Northern Arizona volleyball team was edged by Idaho State in five sets Saturday night, 17-25, 26-24, 11-25, 25-13, 18-16. The Bengals denied the Lumberjacks on three match points, and handed them their third conference loss. NAU is now 21-6 and 11-3 in the Big Sky heading into the final week of the regular season.
"It was a great volleyball match," said head coach Ken Murphy. "The defensive intensity was high on both sides which made it hard for both teams to get a kill tonight. We went through stretches when our pressure was a little better than others, but I liked our team's fight and effort the entire night."
NAU dominated in its two set wins, yet were unable to put away an inspired Idaho State squad on its Senior Night. Barton set a new career-high with 21 digs to go with 47 assists and 10 kills on a .409 hitting percentage. As a team, NAU hit .196 and did manage to outhit Idaho State, who was held to a .163 clip on the heels of the Lumberjacks' 12.0-7.0 block advantage.
The match came down to a do-or-die fifth game, which had the teams tied on 12 different occasions. The set featured two big swings in momentum, first with Idaho State breaking a 4-4 tie with a 4-0 run. Freshman Sydney Lema halted the run with a pair of kills, which then started a 6-0 NAU spurt. Redshirt freshman Hannah Cherry aced the Bengals to cap the surge, providing NAU with a 10-8 lead. Both teams battled, but it was the Lumberjacks who got to match point first at 14-13 following a Bengal attack error.
Following an NAU service error, senior Lauren Jacobsen ripped a kill – her 17th and final of the night – down the line for the second match point. Idaho State answered, and NAU got to 16-15 on an ensuing ISU error. However, not only did the Bengals hold off their third match point, they would close with the final three points to clinch the match.
Based on the opening set, NAU looked to have Idaho State's number as the Lumberjacks hit .389 to take the first game. NAU completely ambushed Idaho State from the opening serve and scored five of the first six points. The 'Jacks would have the Bengals searching for answers as they never trailed by backing up their start with a strong finish on an 8-3 run.
Idaho State seemed to find its missing answers and had all the control up 18-10, when the Lumberjacks stunned everyone in attendance with a spirited run. What started with redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey's aggressive service, NAU scored 12 of the next 16 points to briefly take a 22-21 lead. After a kill by redshirt sophomore Kaylie Jorgenson, the Lumberjacks sat two points away from a 2-0 match lead, only for the Bengals to recover and eventually score four of the final five points.
As closely contested as the fifth set was, the two games preceding it were anything but. The Lumberjacks cruised to a third set win with incredible serving. Dorsey and Jacobsen combined for five aces during an 8-4 start and the Lumberjacks would tally six aces in all to move within one set of victory. Meanwhile, NAU recorded four blocks in the game to hold Idaho State to .000 hitting.
The Bengals set the stage for the fifth set showdown with a similarly dominating fourth set win. Although Jacobsen had five kills to lead NAU to a 6-3, Idaho State stole the momentum with an 11-3 run from there. The Bengals led 18-11, and unlike the second set, they never eased up and forced a decisive game despite eight fourth set kills from Jacobsen.
Jacobsen finished with 17 kills on the night and notched her conference-leading 19th double-double of the season with 17 digs. Along with Barton, freshman Abby Akin joined the senior pair in double-digit kills with 10.
Cherry was one of five Lumberjacks in double-figure digs, leading all players with a career-high 29 – the most by an NAU player this season. Junior Brooke Donnelly had 18 digs and Lema finished with 11. Dorsey recorded eight blocks and also accounted for half of NAU's 10 service aces for the evening as she matched her career-high with five aces at the line.
For the first time all season, the Lumberjacks do not own at least a share of the overall best Big Sky record in the league and are now tied with Sacramento State at 11-3 in the South Division. North Dakota has the inside track to hosting the conference championships with a 12-2 conference record.
NAU will host North Dakota on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center. The Lumberjacks will then welcome Southern Utah on Senior Day Saturday at 2 p.m.