The Northern Arizona volleyball team could not convert on set point in the fourth game to extend its match Saturday and suffered a second straight loss, 25-17, 18-25, 25-21, 26-24, at the hands of Oakland. With the loss, the Jacks concluded the Michigan Invitational -- and the opening weekend of the 2019 season -- with a 1-2 mark.
“Oakland played great and we struggled to get settled the entire day,” Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said. “We couldn’t get our side under control, so everything felt like a struggle. To Oakland’s credit, they didn’t let us get comfortable in the match. There’s great things we can learn from this though, and the team definitely fought hard throughout the match.”
Junior Olivia Turner provided a spark in reserve, recording career highs in kills (11) and hitting percentage (.379) to help pace an attack that narrowly outhit Oakland, .246-.242. The Golden Grizzlies, however, totaled 14 more kills than the Lumberjacks and were plus-six (10-4) in the service ace column.
Junior Heaven Harris, who led Northern Arizona with 12 kills on Saturday, came out firing with two straight kills to open the match. The teams battled to six ties until Oakland broke the set open with a 9-0 run, snapping a 13-13 tie. The Golden Grizzlies seized control by forcing the Jacks into four attack errors and adding four aces during the run. Despite five first-set kills by Harris, the Lumberjacks were unable to recover in the opening stanza.
Northern Arizona turned to Turner and she responded with five second-set kills to ignite the Lumberjacks. With the set tied at 12-12, Northern Arizona scored three straight points and never trailed again as the Lumberjacks managed to tie the match at one set apiece.
After improving to .316 hitting in the second set, the Lumberjacks used the momentum and hit .367 in the third. The Golden Grizzlies stayed paced, hitting .355 in the swing game that featured 10 ties and six lead changes. A tandem block by senior Abby Akin and Harris capped a three-point spurt that put Northern Arizona in front, 13-12, but Oakland responded with three straight points of its own.
Oakland regained the advantage at 15-13 and maintained its edge the rest of the way, although senior Sydney Lema got NAU within 21-20 late with a kill. The Golden Grizzlies clinched the critical third set by scoring four of the final five points.
Needing a victory to survive and force a fifth game, the Lumberjacks appeared well on their way with Akin and sophomore Ryann Davis combining for two straight blocks to pad Northern Arizona’s lead at 17-11. After an Oakland timeout, Akin and Lema turned back another Golden Grizzly attack.
The Lumberjacks’ lead vanished though with the Golden Grizzlies roaring back to take a 20-19 advantage, only for Northern Arizona to respond with four straight points to reclaim a 23-20 lead. The back-and-forth action continued with Oakland tying the score at 23-23 before Harris pounded a kill off the block to get Northern Arizona to set point. However, Oakland held off set point and scored the final three points of the match to secure the win in its home opener.
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Senior Abby Stomp handed out a season-best 26 assists, while freshman Jasmine West led the Lumberjacks with 13 digs and two aces. Sophomore Aubrea Bandfield notched the team’s first double-double of the season with 15 assists and 12 digs, and Akin paced the team’s blocks advantage (10-9) with seven stuffs.
Northern Arizona will turn its attention to the Seton Hall Classic next weekend in South Orange, New Jersey, where the Lumberjacks will start off the tournament with a Friday doubleheader versus the host and Northeastern at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. respectively.
The Lumberjacks are home for a match Sunday against Detroit Mercy at 1 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium.
The Lumberjacks started the regular season with a doubleheader in New York against Army West Point and Iona College, earning a tie against the former and a win against the latter to open the season.
Against Army, sophomore Madison Montgomery scored within the first nine minutes of the game. Montgomery found her second goal against Iona College just a couple days later in the 51st minute of the game.
Sunday marks exactly two years since Northern Arizona and Detroit Mercy last faced each other, with the Lumberjacks winning, 1-0. The team took a total of 21 shots and 10 on-goal toward the Titans. The winning goal was assisted by Tatum Heeres, a current senior forward.
The Titans hold a record of 0-1-1 entering Sunday. Last season, they went 9-8-3, winning five of those games on an opponent's turf. Returning sophomore Julie Ann Piechocki was their leader in earned points. She scored five goals, took 42 shots with 20 on-goal, and assisted her teammates six times. She also took the greatest number of corners at 39.
The Lumberjacks will be on the road for the next five contests following Sunday's matchup. Next weekend, the team will be heading to California to play a pair of games.