Unable to complete a rally after going down two sets to start Thursday night's match, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks saw their four-match winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Weber State Wildcats' block.
Against the Big Sky's top blocking team, Northern Arizona (11-13, 7-6 Big Sky) tallied a total of 54 kills on 189 attempts and committed 26 hitting errors to end the night with a .148 hitting average.
Falling again to a team with a weaker record, Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said his team lacked consistency in other areas of the match than just hitting.
"It was just such an uneven match for us from start to finish in terms of our intensity and in respecting what was going on on the court," Murphy said.
Kaylie Jorgenson recorded a team-high 15 kills, but had 11 errors, whereas Weber State (7-18, 5-8), which completed the regular-season sweep of the Lumberjacks for the first time since 2011, had three players with 18 or more kills. In fact, by the end of the third set, which Northern Arizona won 25-23 after falling 25-23, 25-18, the Wildcats had three players with double-digit kills.
Having again to change the lineup due to an injury didn't help Northern Arizona, as Victoria Ewalefo sat on the sidelines with Brittni Dorsey taking over in the middle.
"I think it made our offense just a bit different," Murphy said.
Dorsey, however, went 7 for 12 with no attack errors for the Lumberjacks, who entered the match owning the conference's longest winning streak. The middle blocker also assisted in five blocks, and the Lumberjacks and Wildcats each put up 10 total rejections.
Dorsey and Sydney Lema, who put up nine kills to go with 22 digs, combined for a set-winning block in the third frame. Heaven Harris and Dorsey got their side to set point in the fourth with a block, with the latter closing it out at 25-20 with a kill to push a fifth set.
"I think the main thing was to try to get into a defensive flow and let that impact the mentality of the match a little bit, and I thought we got to a point where that started to happen," Murphy said.
By the end of the fourth, Weber's block was still putting up a wall, but its hitters were wearing down. It was the wall up front that set the tone of the final frame. The Wildcats jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the decider thanks to two blocks on Jorgenson and a Jorgenson hitting error.
Northern Arizona cut it close in the final set, making it an 8-7 deficit, but Weber got two crucial kills to end it from Andrea Hale, who led all hitters with 21 kills, to close it out.
Harris was held to one of her worst nights since the team fell to Sacramento State on the road on in mid-October, managing to put up just 10 kills on 35 attempts while committing five errors. Abby Akin also had 10 kills.
With Northern Arizona's leading hitters of the night combining to terminate the ball 17 times on 65 attempts to go with eight hitting errors by the end of the second set, it seemed that the Wildcats would finish off the Lumberjacks in sweeping fashion for the second time this season. Picking up the pace on defense, even taking a lead in the blocking category at 8-7 after four sets, Northern Arizona clawed its way back into the match.
For Murphy, finding an answer to get his young team to perform with hunger every night and not let up to teams with weak records while beating some of the conference's best is something he takes responsibility for.
"I think that is a sign of a younger team, but it's my job to instill that in them, and I don't think we've broke the trend of that yet," Murphy said.
Three matches remain on Northern Arizona's schedule, two of which will be played at Rolle. The Lumberjacks are back in action Saturday for a 2 p.m. match against Idaho State.