Thursday night’s match was a battle throughout with three of the five sets needing extra points to reach a decision, but the Northern Arizona volleyball team’s return home netted the same result as last week.
Montana State held off two match points and rallied for a 26-24, 14-25, 25-19, 27-29, 17-15 victory over the Lumberjacks in Rolle Activity Center, handing the host (9-8, 2-3 Big Sky) its third straight loss.
The fifth set continues to be an obstacle for the Lumberjacks as they fell to 0-6 in outings that go the distance. Coupled with a pair of five-set losses last week on the road, Northern Arizona dropped its third consecutive 3-2 match for the first time since Aug. 29-30, 1997. It’s 13-match home streak was also halted by Montana State.
“There were stretches tonight where we made a lot of unforced errors and we were our own worst enemy,” Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said. “Montana State played great and when they’re playing as well as they are, you have to minimize those (errors). We didn’t handle that very well tonight.”
Despite hitting only .199 as a team, senior Abby Stomp and sophomore Aubrea Bandfield distributed Northern Arizona’s attack evenly, with four players finishing in double-digit kills. Senior Abby Akin’s career-high 17 kills paced the Lumberjacks and was a catalyst for the team all night long as she hit .364 and added a team-high six blocks along with two aces.
Junior Olivia Turner made her first start of the season and responded with her first career double-double with a career-high 15 kills to go along with 13 digs. Freshman Taylor Jacobsen also notched a double-double with 12 kills and 15 digs, while sophomore Ryann Davis tallied 11 kills on .333 hitting.
Senior Sydney Lema led the Lumberjacks with 22 digs -- pushing her into fourth all-time in program history and past the 1,300 career dig mark -- to help Northern Arizona hold Montana State to only a .165 attack clip.
The first game set the tone for the rest of the evening as Montana State fended off a late NAU rally on two set points. The Bobcats raced out to a 5-0 advantage and remained in front until the Lumberjacks knotted the score at 16-16. Bandfield evened the score once again at 22-22 with her first of two aces on the night before Montana State reached set point at 24-22. Consecutive kills by redshirt freshman Morgan Gappmayer and Akin held off both set points, only for Montana State to score the next two.
Northern Arizona led the second set wire-to-wire in the match’s most lopsided stanza as the Lumberjacks hit .346 and limited the Bobcats to only .067 hitting. The host scored the first three points of the set and never trailed, with Turner connecting on four kills in the match-tying set.
Both teams hit under .100 in the third set. Montana State pushed its advantage out to 18-12 and Northern Arizona never got closer than four the rest of the way.
A Turner solo block put her team at set point at 24-20 in the fourth, only for Montana State to rip off four straight points to tie it at 24-all. The teams traded points until 27-27 when Akin hammered a kill to give the Lumberjacks their eighth set point. This time, Northern Arizona capitalized on a Montana State error to head to the fifth.
The fifth set included 13 ties and four lead changes, and neither team led by more than one until a 3-0 Lumberjacks run put the home team ahead 13-11. Akin tied the set at 11-11 with a kill before Turner put the Jacks ahead with a kill of her own. After a Bobcat timeout, Akin’s off-speed serve aced the Bobcats.
Two points later, Northern Arizona served for match point leading 14-12. After Montana State staved off the match points and then got to match point itself at 15-14, Turner posted her second solo block to knot the score at 15-15. The Bobcats, however, closed out the match with two kills.
The Lumberjacks will try to put an end to their three-match skid Saturday when they host Montana at 1 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center. All fans are encouraged to wear pink to the Pink Out match for breast cancer awareness.
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