In typical first-match fashion, the Northern Arizona volleyball team was not perfect, but it proved to be victorious in its 2014 season opener on Friday, defeating host Houston Baptist on the first day of the Marriott Houston Westchase Invitational.
The Lumberjacks won their season opening match for the eighth time in the last nine years, doing so in four sets, 25-17, 21-25, 25-19, 25-14 behind a gritty effort.
“I thought we were definitely anxious and we were rushing our offense,” said head coach Ken Murphy. “We didn’t get into a really good rhythm offensively, but it’s good that we have the ability to win a match like this when everything isn’t going all that great.”
The teams split the first eight points of the day, but three consecutive Lumberjack points was all NAU needed to break free. The short spurt gave NAU a lead that eventually extended out to 19-11 following two straight errors by the Huskies. Sophomore Addy Lofstedt provided the Lumberjacks with the early spark with five kills and junior Payton Bock put a wrap on the opening stanza with a kill.
The home team came out swinging in the second set, though, as it had eyes on evening the match at one set apiece. Houston Baptist started by taking five of the first six points and would eventually find itself with a seemingly comfortable 18-10 lead. NAU mounted a furious rally started by a kill from junior Janae Vander Ploeg. The Lumberjacks climbed back to within one at 21-20, but HBU claimed four of the next five points.
Following the intermission, the third set was another tight one at the onset with the two squads battling to an early 4-4 tie. A block by junior Taylor Stephens and sophomore Jensen Barton was the first of four straight NAU points. With her team clinging to a one-point edge, 19-18, senior Sydney Kemper converted on a kill that was followed by four consecutive HBU errors to put NAU at set point, which Vander Ploeg would finish with her seventh kill of the night two points later.
Vander Ploeg’s third-set kill was the boost she needed to ignite the Lumberjacks in the decisive fourth set as she recorded four kills in NAU’s 11-4 opening run. Back-to-back kills by Lofstedt positioned the Lumberjacks for match point and they would seal the victory with the Huskies’ 33rd attack error of the match.
The Lumberjacks will be back in action this morning with matches at 10 a.m. versus Chattanooga and at 3 p.m. versus Tulsa. Tulsa defeated Chattanooga in Friday’s first match in four sets.
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The Northern Arizona women’s soccer team was back on the pitch Thursday night in Tucson as they faced the University of Arizona. The Wildcats scored in the 86th minute for a 1-0 win. that dropped the Lumberjacks to 0-3 this season.
“Tonight was a complete 180 from the first three games we have played this year,” said head coach Andre Luciano. “I felt like we finally showed some grit and resolve going after 50-50 balls and challenging our opponent.”
After firing off 28 shots against Northern Arizona’s defense, Arizona broke through in the 86th with a goal from Leeandra Smith.
Natalie Gilbertson was back in goal for the Lumberjacks after Meghan Dickmann started NAU’s last match against UC Riverside and was stellar in goal with nine saves. Gilbertson’s biggest save of them all was in the 42nd minute when Hannah Wong had the chance to give UA the lead off a penalty kick, but Gilbertson came up with the big save to keep the score at 0-0.
Despite the loss, Luciano was encouraged by the team’s performance.
“I told the team that they are back,” Luciano said. “The Jacks that we know fight and they challenge for everything and never quit. The shots were heavily in UofA’s favor, but we did what we needed to do and I am really proud of them.”
The Lumberjacks will now head back to Flagstaff and prepare for Sunday’s home opener against Valparaiso at 1 p.m. at Lumberjack Stadium.