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NAU Volleyball

Members of the Northern Arizona volleyball team practice during the preseason at Rolle Activity Center.

The junior had 76 kills, the sophomore 54 and the freshman 53 over the first six matches of the season.

The firepower is there, but the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, who finally return home after spending the opening two weekends on the road, have to wait for it to reach its potential.

“Our right-side attack is mixed with our middle and our left in a way different level than we’ve seen it in the past," Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said after Wednesday's practice. "Having all those options makes us so much tougher to defend when we are passing well.”

By the end of the two early-season tournaments, Kaylie Jorgenson led the Lumberjacks in kills, with Sydney Lema coming in second and Heaven Harris a close third. The middle played its part, too, as Abby Akin contributed 38 kills on a .348 hitting percentage.

Entering its third and final regular-season tournament of the year, the Lumberjack Classic, Northern Arizona has already caught an injury bug. The setbacks have kept the offense from reaching its peaks, stalling important early-season chemistry.

Lema was on crutches with her knee wrapped at practice, while senior setter and 2017 transfer Dani Westfall has been forced to play mostly defense due to a nagging wrist issue.

Even while working out kinks, the Lumberjacks finished the opening weeks with a 3-3 record, collecting two 3-0 victories and a big five-set win over Southern Illinois in the season opener. At their first tourney, the Miami Best Western Sycamore Inn Invitational, the Lumberjacks dealt with a front-loaded schedule, facing three teams that all finished 2016 in the top 75 of the Division I volleyball RPI rankings.

After going 1-2 at the first tourney, Northern Arizona, which finished in the No. 91 spot of last season's RPI list, took on weaker opponents and came out of the Hampton Inn Jackrabbits Invitational with a 2-1 record. The loss on the second weekend came to CSU Bakersfield, a team that has been a thorn in Northern Arizona's side.

The Lumberjacks will get to face the Roadrunners again, this time in Rolle Activity Center, as CSU caps off Northern Arizona's weekend on Saturday with a noon match. On Friday at noon, Northern Arizona opens its home slate against Utah State, which enters the Classic with a 4-3 record, a previous 3-1 victory over CSU and senior hitter Lauren Anderson from Liberty High School in Peoria, who's pushed her game to new levels.


Meanwhile, Jorgenson keeps making cases why she could end up as Northern Arizona's go-to playmaker. Already halfway to her 2016 kills total of 148, she's also developed her defensive game. Through six matches, Jorgenson has notched 83 digs, more than twice the amount she finished with last year. The hitter also has been contributing to the block this season with seven assisted blocks and one solo after ending last year with 17 total.

“I’ve been impressed with how she’s improved there and has become a good all-around player," Murphy said.

Another player making noise at the net for the Lumberjacks has been Harris. She emerged from the first two weeks with a consistent attack, posting a .402 hitting percentage, the highest among NAU hitters that have 50 or more kills so far.

In fact, the consistency has been an issue with Jorgenson. Although she leads the teams in kills, she is hitting at a .187 rate. 

Murphy said he can't wait to see his team firing on all cylinders after the offense works out kinks and gets back to full health.

“I think we look back at the matches we haven’t won and we say, ‘Here are some plays that if we made here or there, it might have been a different story," said Murphy, whose team fell to Western Kentucky 25-16, 25-22, 25-21 and lost to Miami (Ohio) 25-17, 22-25, 25-21, 25-22 during the opening weekend. "If we have a little more awareness of how our team works together and a little more experience, we could have finished some of those sets or won those matches out.”


Sandwiched between the Utah and CSU matches is the much-anticipated Arizona State match, the night cap of Northern Arizona's Friday double-header that starts at 6:30 p.m. The Sun Devils, who have former Flagstaff Eagles four-year varsity player and two-time state champ Courtney Leffel on the roster, come up the hill with a 4-2 record after facing a few Big Sky Conference teams.

Now in her second year with the Devils, Leffel has played all sets so far as a defensive specialist, posting the second-most digs on the team with 66.

With Lema out, redshirt sophomore Ohiyah Shirley has a chance to help the hitting. Shirley, a Kayenta native and former Monument Valley High standout, has played six of the total 22 sets so far this season, posting 10 kills and 18 digs.

Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at


Sports Reporter

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