At the tail end of a difficult week of travel, the Northern Arizona volleyball team returned to its familiar confines inside the Rolle Activity Center and posted a brisk 25-20, 25-19, 25-18 regular-season finale victory over Southern Utah on Saturday, which was the Lumberjacks' Senior Day.
“We relied on our defense 100 percent today,” said Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy. “Everything we did that was good stemmed from our defense.”
NAU finished the regular season with a 9-7 Big Sky record, marking its sixth consecutive season with a winning conference mark. The Lumberjacks went 13-14 overall.
The Lumberjacks’ three seniors, Emma Grimsrud, Brooke Donnelly and Dani Westfall, were honored before the match and all three shared the court in the third set. Westfall recorded six digs, while Grimsrud posted a kill. Donnelly entered as a serving specialist.
NAU’s offense was not its sharpest, hitting only .218 for the match, but the Lumberjacks’ defensive performance was dominant. Sophomore Abby Akin notched a season-high eight kills and spearheaded an NAU presence that totaled 10 team blocks, holding the Thunderbirds to only .011 hitting. Southern Utah hit .000 in two of the three sets.
Despite the straight-set sweep, the match was tightly contested with 19 ties and nine lead changes. The Lumberjacks actually trailed 16-12 midway through the first, but a 9-2 run pushed them ahead at 21-18. After two consecutive Southern Utah points, redshirt junior Kaylie Jorgenson and freshman Heaven Harris combined for four consecutive points to close the set.
Sophomore Sydney Lema contributed two kills during a momentum-shifting 4-0 run that snapped a 14-14 tie. With the lead in hand, the Lumberjacks again closed strong with four of the last five points. Lema recorded five of her eight kills on the day in the second set during NAU’s best offensive set.
Jorgenson took over in the third set, totaling six kills in finishing off the Thunderbirds. NAU turned around a 3-1 deficit with a 6-1 run that forced a Southern Utah timeout, and the Lumberjacks never trailed the rest of the way. NAU led 22-12 before Southern Utah made it interesting closing to 23-17. Jorgenson put an end to any threat though by slamming her 11th and 12th kills of the match, providing the seniors a happy ending in their final home match.
“It hit me out of nowhere and it’s honestly overwhelming,” Grimsrud said. “I’m so appreciative of this opportunity and all the amazing people who support us. My teammates are like my family, and my teammates’ families are amazing. We’ve been through so much together, but the love and support means a lot to me.”
Jorgenson led the team with 12 kills, 13 digs and three service aces. Sophomore Abby Stomp equally distributed the ball with five players notching at least six kills, with Southern Utah unable to stop NAU’s middles in particular. Redshirt sophomore Brittni Dorsey tallied six kills on nine swings, while Akin also collected six kills on 12 swings.
With the win, NAU will be the No. 5 seed in next week’s Big Sky Championships. The Lumberjacks’ first round opponent is still to be determined, but they will open up the tournament next Thursday in Sacramento.