Looking very much different than it did at the start of the season, the Northern Arizona volleyball team still possesses the characteristic of resiliency.
With key players still sidelined with injury and others taking on new roles to try to generate wins, the Lumberjacks put an end to a three-match losing skid Saturday in Rolle Activity Center against the Montana Grizzlies, 3-2.
Playing to a fifth set for the fourth match in a row Northern Arizona had the answer this time: accountability.
“We’ve been having slow starts and talking about having effective communication and accountability," said Lumberjacks outside hitter Olivia Turner, who finished with 15 kills for the second straight outing to go with 18 digs. "You can tell we picked that up, and points started coming in our favor, and we actually started getting more comfortable, getting that connection and hitting the shots we hit in practice.”
The issue of starting off slow continued Saturday, but the Lumberjacks (10-8, 3-3 Big Sky) managed to dig themselves out of a two-set hole for a comeback victory, 22-25, 21-25, 25-17, 25-17, 15-13. Three of the past four five-set matches for Northern Arizona have been determined by two points in the final stanza, and it was the first time in program history the team played four consecutive five-setters.
Lumberjacks senior middle blocker Abby Akin finished with 15 kills as well, including two in the final set that helped push her team to the win. Northern Arizona faced a 13-9 deficit in the deciding set, but used a 5-0 run to rally back, with Akin terminating the ball two times during the surge and Ryann Davis sparking the outburst with a kill.
Akin had five kills alone in the fifth.
“We have to prove to ourselves that we can be successful in these pressure situations, and we had three where we weren’t," Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said. "And that can get in your head a bit and make you start to really think about that situation, and I was really proud of how we handled that fifth set. Even though we were down, Ryann served tough, we played good defense and took good swings, stayed aggressive, and I think the last couple weeks we have been really tentative in those situations.”
Taylor Jacobsen recorded a team-high 17 kills and added 18 digs, and Davis added 12 kills and four service aces. Davis was behind the service line for the match-winning stretch, sending her final ace of the afternoon off of a Montana defender's chest to close the deficit to 13-11.
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Montana (2-15, 1-5 Big Sky) tallied 12 total blocks to the host's four, and also had 81 digs to Northern Arizona's 73. But Northern Arizona put four total hitters in double-digits in kills and tallied 11 aces while Montana failed to drop an ace and committed nine service errors.
Moving from outside hitter to the libero position to help the offense start firing with good passing, senior Sydney Lema finished with 12 digs and was the other Northern Arizona player with four aces.
After dropping the first two sets, Northern Arizona made a move to run a 5-1 system instead of it's two-setter system, and senior setter Abby Stomp helped her team get rolling midway through the third stanza. She finished with a season-high 47 assists as Northern Arizona hit .222 for the match -- its best percentage in the last three weeks.
Northern Arizona managed to string together consecutive points off the serve just once during in the opening set as well as in the second set. The third saw the Lumberjacks, who have not come back from a 2-0 deficit since Aug. 25, 2017 against Southern Illinois, find a flow, breaking away from a 9-all tie with an 8-1 outburst en route to taking the third set.
During the third-set surge, Davis was at the service line. Later in the game, Turner's kill pushed Northern Arizona to a 20-14 lead.
With Lema playing libero for the second straight match, Turner filled in as the team's second outside hitter.
"We are so thankful to have such hard workers all around that no matter what spot they are in on the court or what situation they are in, they go all out, and that leads to the outcome we got today,” Turner said.
Northern Arizona starts a three-match road trip Thursday with Idaho at 6 p.m.