During its current three-match win streak, there were plenty of times Northern Arizona players could have put their chins down and sulked after a play that didn't go their way.
On Saturday at home against Montana, the Lumberjacks battled through long volleys and 11 ties on the way to the 3-0 victory. On the way to a 3-1 win over Southern Utah on Monday, the team fell short in some areas of the match but still found a way to win.
Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy is proud of the composure his team showed as it worked its way to tying a season-high win streak of three matches. He's not so much concerned about surpassing the mark of wins in a row as he is wanting to see his team keep up the intensity.
“We didn’t statically play the best match of the year," Murphy said of the Southern Utah win. "We didn’t really have great offense or defense, but we competed really well and got ourselves into a competitive flow. We think that makes it three matches in a row we’ve been able to do that, and that’s key for us, getting on a roll in terms of how we play. So, even more than just tying to win a fourth match in a row, it’s trying to get into the mindset of how we want to play the game on our side and do that for four matches in a row.”
Northern Arizona (13-7, 5-2 Big Sky Conference) plays Northern Colorado on the road Saturday looking to gain more ground in the conference standings. The Lumberjacks currently sit at No. 3 in the Big Sky, trailing Weber State and Idaho State, both of which own 5-1 conference records.
Hoping to snap a two-match losing skid, Northern Colorado (7-8, 3-3) will face Southern Utah today before hosting Northern Arizona.
With the recent wins, the Lumberjacks jumped from 150th in the RPI rankings to 136th.
The Lumberjacks, the only Big Sky team that has five hitters that have 100 or more kills each, will test a Bears defense that relies on its back-row's play. Northern Arizona enters Saturday's match hitting .264, the second-best mark in the conference, and its top four hitters are all hitting .200 or better.
The Bears, currently 145th in the RPI rankings, are the conference's bottom team in blocking but trail only the Lumberjacks in digs per set.
Northern Colorado also has shown its attack can be effective.
The team, which has four hitters with 100 or more kills, recorded a three-set- high mark of 50 kills in a victory against Montana. The Bears, however, only have one attacker who owns 100 or more kills while hitting better than .200.
Although they didn't cruise to a victory against Southern Utah, the Lumberjacks have been gelling on both sides of the ball during their win streak. Northern Arizona held Montana State to .061 hitting while hitting .373 and limited Montana to hitting .080. Southern Utah terminated the ball more than Northern Arizona, but the Lumberjacks won in blocking 11-8.
Abby Akin has a big role in the type of game Northern Arizona wants to play. The middle blocker is third on the team in kills at 170 and is hitting .372. She's sixth in the league in blocks, averaging 1.12 per set, and her highest block total in a three-set match sits at seven in a victory over Montana.
“She brings us energy with her offense and her blocking, and we need her. She’s such a great player and the thing she is doing better than ever is every night she is a force," Murphy said. "It’s hard for teams to slow her down because she has a lot of tools.”
One tool she improved this season is serving, and she leads the team with 29 service aces.
“It’s a much bigger weapon this year," Murphy said. "She had a really aggressive serve last year, but didn’t have the consistency, but now she can move the ball around, get it into the weak spots of serve-receive.”
Saturday's match is set for a 6 p.m. start.
The golf team finished the New Mexico State Aggie Invitational in seventh place, improving from its eighth-place finish the day before.
The final round was played at the New Mexico State University Golf Course in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The Lumberjacks shot 13-over (301), matching their tally from the first round, to finish with a 906. The seventh-overall finish is the second highest for the team this year, having come in fifth place at the Hobble Creek Fall Classic.
Lexi Keene led Northern Arizona, shooting a 1-under to end the third round with a tally of 71. She eagled on the fourth hole and recorded three birdies. Her total score was 219 at the end of the final round.
“I’m really excited about my performance this week,” Keene said. “My game is improving with every tournament and that is all I can ask for out of myself."
The performance earned her a ninth-place finish, tying Aleksandra Chekalina for the highest individual finish for the Lumberjacks this season.
Freshman Ashley Croft ended the invitational in a tie for 27th place.
The UTEP squad won the Aggie Invitational with a 15-over-par 879.
The Lumberjacks will return to the course on Sunday, Oct. 21, for the first round of the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown hosted by UNLV.
The Lumberjacks will take on Northern Colorado on Friday at 6 p.m. in Greeley, Colorado. On Sunday, they will travel to Missoula, Montana, to play against the University of Montana at 11 a.m.
After playing against Big Sky Conference opponents Portland State and Sacramento State this past weekend, Northern Arizona is second in the standings with an overall record of 8-3-2 and a conference record of 4-0-1.
The Lumberjacks are currently a half game back of Weber State, which stands at 5-0-1 in conference.
Northern Colorado is coming into the weekend at 8-6-0 overall and 4-1-0 in the conference. The Bears are third in the Big Sky, just one spot behind Northern Arizona.
Montana is entering the weekend with a record of 2-7-4 on the season and 1-2-2 in the Big Sky -- good for seventh in the standings.