The Rolle Activity Center is proving to be a difficult place for SEC schools to play in after the Northern Arizona volleyball team swept LSU, 26-24, 25-19, 26-24, to close the first day of the Lumberjack Classic.
In front of 1,095 fans, the fourth-largest home crowd in program history, the Lumberjacks (5-3) knocked off an SEC opponent for the second straight year on Friday night.
“This was one of the best crowds since I’ve been here,” said Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy. “The band was really loud and doing their thing and our fans carried us through the match. They hung in and there’s no doubt that we gain a lot of confidence playing in front of a crowd like this.”
“We could feel the crowd backing us when we were down,” added senior Abby Akin. “We know this is our gym and this is where we can play our best volleyball.”
Earlier in the afternoon the Lumberjacks swept South Dakota State 25-14, 25-11, 25-16.
NAU’s sweep of LSU comes a year after the Jacks upset No. 8 Florida on the same court in the same tournament. It was the program’s first sweep of a Power Five school since Northern Arizona swept Mississippi State in 2003. The victory also capped a perfect opening day to start Northern Arizona's home tournament.
Akin hit .417 and recorded 11 kills, three aces and three blocks -- all of which led the team. Junior Heaven Harris matched Akin’s 11 kills and sophomore Ryann Davis added 10 for the victors.
Davis’ 10th and final kill punctuated the sweep on match point, capping a 4-0 match-clinching run after the Lumberjacks faced set point down 24-22. Harris and freshman Taylor Jacobsen staved off two LSU set points with kills, forcing a timeout by the Tigers. The timeout did not deter the Lumberjacks as sophomore Aubrea Bandfield service aced the Tigers before Davis’ clinching kill.
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Northern Arizona hit .254 in the match compared to LSU’s .219 clip despite the Tigers holding a 7-4 advantage in blocks. While the host recorded six more kills (49-43) than LSU, the Lumberjacks commanded the service line with seven aces to the Tigers’ one.
“We focus on our side of the net and it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side,” said Jacobsen, who tallied nine kills and nine digs on .286 hitting. “We play our game, get in a rally and keep working hard. We trust each other.”
After a kill and two aces by Akin, Northern Arizona led 17-12 in the opening set, but a 7-0 LSU run pushed the surging Tigers ahead, 21-19. Despite trailing for most of the set, LSU got to set point at 24-23, only to see Northern Arizona post the first of two clinching rallies. Kills by Jacobsen and Akin moved their team ahead and Jacobsen wrapped up the set with the Lumberjacks’ third ace of the first set.
Northern Arizona hit .400 in the second set and methodically extended its lead throughout to take a 2-0 lead in the match. Three consecutive LSU attack errors aided a 4-0 run that provided NAU with a 13-8 cushion that the home team maintained. Davis, Harris and Jacobsen each tallied four kills in the game.
LSU had no interest in being swept with the Tigers racing out to a 5-0 third set advantage. The lead quickly vanished though as the Jacks tied it at 6-6 on a Bandfield ace. However, LSU resettled and kept Northern Arizona at bay for much of the third set with a slim advantage in hand.
The Tigers led 20-17 late, but the Lumberjacks continued to chop away at the deficit. Northern Arizona still played from behind until evening the score at 24-24 and eventually sending the Rolle Activity Center into a frenzy on Davis’ final kill.
“Two weeks ago, we didn’t finish a match that we had similar control over and last week it was the same thing,” Murphy said. “But this group is resilient, they keep learning and they want to be better. They’ve learned from mistakes that have already happened in the first two weeks. What we saw tonight was a team that grinded out points for three straight sets without any dips and tonight we saw hard work pay off.”
Northern Arizona will aim to win their own Lumberjack Classic outright for the first time in four years when it faces face Fresno State on Saturday at noon. Fresno State fell to LSU Friday morning in four sets, but rebounded to beat South Dakota State in four sets in the evening.