Northern Arizona didn't think of itself as an underdog going into Thursday's home match against a Sacramento State team that had not yet dropped a conference match.
"I think we thought of it more like we're going to go to battle and see how it goes," said Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy.
It went well, as it usually does for Northern Arizona when they play in Rolle Activity Center, especially against the Hornets.
The offense shined with three players recording 15 or more kills, the backrow was led by a career-high night from libero Jordan Anderson, the block put up a wall and the Lumberjacks' all-around effort ended up in a five-set victory.
Anderson tallied 28 digs to go with five aces for the Lumberjacks, who improved their conference record to 6-5 while the Hornets fell to 10-1 in the Big Sky standings. Overall, Northern Arizona moved to 10-12 with the 27-29, 25-14, 25-21, 20-25, 16-14 victory, as Sacramento went to 19-8.
Anderson said her job came easier when her teammates up front started using the block to either shut down Sacramento's hitters or force the attacks to certain parts of the court.
"We kind of shut down there outside and got her to start tipping, hitting roll shots and a lot of easier shots, and when we stayed on that girl, we were solid," Anderson said.
Sacramento's Shannon Boyle came out swinging hard and tried to control the match, collecting seven kills in the first set on 16 attempts. Toward the end of the marathon opener, however, Lumberjacks middle blocker Victoria Ewalefo and opposite hitter Heaven Harris got their timing down on Boyle, allowing the Hornets hitter to tally just 13 more kills the rest of the match.
The defense came from the entire Lumberjacks rotation, as five players notched double-digit kills while Sacramento had just three players do so. By the end of the third set, both teams had taken nearly the same amount of attack attempts, with Northern Arizona leading in the digs category at the point 67-53.
Going into Rolle, where Sacramento hasn't won since 2009, Anderson knew staying mentally sound could make the difference.
"I kept that mentality throughout and I think that's a big part of what our team did," Anderson said. "We all kind of talked about it, staying really relaxed in this game and just go out and play and do what we do every single game."
The mental fortitude played a role in the final set. The Lumberjacks, who before Thursday were 0-2 in matches that went the distance, struggled on both sides of the serve, committing four errors and stumbling on serve-receive.
What got them back into the match after dropping the first set ended up getting them the upset. Outside hitter Kaylie Jorgenson broke two late fifth-set ties with her attack -- one being a perfect, emphatic kill down the line -- and Ewalefo and Harris called it a night with a combined effort on block.
It took Jorgenson, who went just 7 of 24 attacking in the first set, a set to figure out her offensive approach. But as the block started giving Boyle trouble, Jorgenson heated up.
"Even though we lost the first set, we came out of it with some belief that we had some control over what was going to happen in the match. We actually out-statted them in a bunch of areas and played a really solid set, and if it wasn't for a couple of receiving errors, I think we would have won," Murphy said. "So I think we came through thinking we could block and defend and get things going."
Harris, Ewalefo and Abby Akin provided the offense their arms to help keep the Lumberjacks' attack spread out. Akin had a career-high 16 kills, her fourth double-digit effort of the season, Harris provided 18 kills, a new career-high, and Ewalefo followed suit, tying her highest number at seven.
Jorgenson never tired out despite taking 85 swings in the match and ended her night with a match-high 26 kills, a career-best effort, helping the Lumberjacks win their third straight match, the longest win streak of the season so far.
It was a night of highs as the offense shined.
By the third set Jorgenson, Akin and Harris all had 10 or more kills. Meanwhile, Boyle was the only Sacramento player with double digits in the category.
"I was really impressed with the balance we had. Particularly Kaylie, Abby and Heaven were able to produce so many kills in such important moments during the sets against Sacramento, which is a really good defensive team," Murphy said. "For us to run that kind of offense against them, I think that shows the things we're capable of."
Northern Arizona takes on another one of the conference's top teams on Saturday to keep their four-match homestand going, hosting Portland State at noon.