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Northern Arizona Idaho Volleyball Harris

Northern Arizona’s Heaven Harris (24) powers an attack through the Idaho block during a match last season in the Rolle Activity Center.

Northern Arizona has been known to rise up for the occasion.

The defending Big Sky champions shocked Florida last year during the nonconference schedule, notching the program's first-ever defeat of a nationally ranked opponent. Last Friday, the Lumberjacks fell short one set shy of the feat in a road loss to Michigan.

Then came a 3-1 loss to Oakland that capped off a busy weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Northern Arizona went 1-3 to start the 2019 season.

Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said his team needs to learn to take the same approach into every match, learn how to take care of business.

He wants his team to be able to pull off upsets while making sure they are not susceptible to being upset themselves. This weekend presents a good chance for the Lumberjacks to work on a few of the mental aspects of the game -- as well as a few technical areas.

Northern Arizona will travel east again for the Seton Hall Classic in South Orange, New Jersey, where they will take on Seton Hall, Northeastern and La Salle across a two-day span. All three of Northern Arizona's opponents this weekend enter having finished 2018 below the Lumberjacks in the NCAA RPI rankings.

Murphy described his competition this weekend as being "middle-of-the-pack" teams, a term he doesn't want applied to his own squad.

“We need to play matches, gain experience and learn to approach every match the same. We don’t want to approach a No. 15 Michigan team differently than a middle-of-the-pack team," Murphy said.

Then again, Murphy added that the majority -- if not all --  of NCAA volleyball teams right now are still working out kinks.

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While Murphy wants to see the team's approach to matches become more consistent, he also wants to see improvement in areas that proved weak over the opening weekend. One of the main spots that needs work is at receiving serve and forcing early side-outs.

Despite some of the younger players struggling in the backline, the defense overall was solid enough to push Michigan to five sets.

“That makes me pretty optimistic about what we can do as that becomes a stronger point for us as the season goes on, just seeing more of what we are capable of," Murphy said of the passing issues.

Lumberjacks freshman libero Jasmine West showed she's developing her defense quickly, finishing with 52 total digs to lead her team at 4.33 per set. She also received serve at a .907 clip. Freshman Taylor Jacobsen and junior Olivia Turner, both outside hitters lacking defensive experience, joined West at different times last weekend in the backrow.

Northern Arizona's side-out struggles stalled the team in the loss to Oakland. The Lumberjacks allowed 10 service aces against the Golden Grizzlies, who also had a side-out rate at 53% compared to Northern Arizona's 49%.

Northern Arizona's strengths, meanwhile, were just what Murphy thought they'd be. Murphy said that after seeing them in action this weekend, his opposites, setters and middles showed they are capable of being even better than last season.

Lumberjacks junior opposite Heaven Harris made the Michigan Invitational All-Tournament Team thanks to her efforts over the weekend, recording a total of 35 kills while hitting .360. She also tallied six total blocks across the three matches.

“She was very terminal, she blocked very well. She was really able to be a consistent player through the weekend," Murphy said of Harris. "I am sure she’ll have some better matches than others as the season goes on, but it does seem that her high point will be higher now.”

Northern Arizona will start the weekend with Seton Hall at 8 a.m. today before taking on Northeastern at 1:30 p.m. later in the afternoon. The Jacks will conclude the tournament with La Salle at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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