NAU ended its four-match road trip with a 2-2 record after a four-set loss to the Portland State University (PSU) Vikings on Saturday night. After a strong first set for the Lumberjacks, the Vikings found a way to win the next three, despite having more attack errors.
After the first set started with a 6-6 tie, Portland State handed NAU four straight points — all from errors — forcing one of many timeouts from PSU head coach Michael Seemann. The Lumberjacks looked to be in control of the set and the match as a whole, getting kills from multiple players. A three-point run from NAU was possible thanks to a trio of kills from redshirt junior Morgan Gappmayer, freshman opposite hitter Sophia Wadsworth, and sophomore middle blocker Jordan Elder. Once NAU reached set point, PSU tried to make a run with a pair of kills from junior outside hitter Makayla Lewis and redshirt senior outside hitter Parker Webb. The two outside hitters accounted for more than a third of Portland State’s kills, with 28 of 60.
NAU clinched its only set of the match, 25-18, after another Gappmayer kill, her fifth of a career high 14. She also earned 10 digs, giving her a double-double. In a rare sight, junior outside hitter Taylor Jacobsen had zero kills in the first set. Both teams had 11 kills in the set, but the difference came in hitting errors; NAU had four, while PSU had 11.
“I think in the first set we had it under control,” NAU head coach Ken Murphy said about the flow of the match. “I thought they executed better than we were able to defend.”
The second set was easily the most competitive of the match. There were 14 lead changes throughout the set, with the last one coming thanks to a Lewis kill that made the score 16-15 in favor of the Vikings. Up until that point, the biggest lead in the set by either team was only two points. A NAU timeout fell right in the middle of a PSU four-point run that gave the Vikings momentum in controlling the set.
The close score added to the intensity both benches were feeling. The Portland State coaching staff got into it with the referees for a lot of the match, resulting in a pair of yellow cards being issued toward the Vikings’ bench.
The teams traded blows until near the end of the set. A service ace by sophomore outside hitter Gabby Hollins made it set point for PSU, and another Lewis kill, her ninth, tied the match at one set apiece.
Despite set two being as close as it was, Portland State had its best hitting percentage in the second frame at .500. This followed the first set, when NAU held the Vikings to an even .000 hitting percentage.
PSU’s late run to close the second set continued at the start of set three. A trio of kills by Hollins, Lewis and freshman middle blocker Sydney Rabe gave the Vikings a 3-0 set lead. NAU responded in kind with a five-point run that saw Jacobsen officially get three of her four service aces. However, two of these aces were a little deceiving, as Portland State had a pair of out-of-position calls that netted NAU points. These calls were prevalent in the match, particularly for PSU, but they eventually hit the Lumberjacks near the end of the set.
“They were just standing in the wrong spots with their rotations,” Murphy said about the calls, which are hardly ever seen. “It should have been more points; actually, they were out for a bunch of plays. It definitely caused us some chaos out there.”
NAU jumped to a lead in the set as the Vikings tried to figure out their formations. The Lumberjacks had a solid four-point run to force another PSU timeout. All of the sudden, the tables turned as Portland State began to chip away at the lead, eventually tying the set at 19-19. After a successful challenge and a three-point run, the Lumberjacks called timeout, knowing the set was slipping away.
Out of the timeout, the three-point run turned into five points, which ended with Jacobsen being stuffed at the net by Webb and sophomore middle blocker Ashleigh Barto to give the Vikings the set, 25-21, along with a 2-1 lead.
Portland State scored first in all four sets of the match. The final set was just as lopsided as the first, except this time, the roles were reversed; PSU jumped out to a huge lead, and to no avail, NAU made a late run. The Lumberjacks got their first six points of the set on PSU errors, but they were far and few between. The Vikings won five of the first six points and went on a six-point run that forced an NAU timeout once again. Before NAU found any sort of rhythm, the Vikings led by as much as 10 points in the set.
The Lumberjacks did have a game-high seven-point streak that brought the score to within three, 16-13. PSU had to burn all its remaining timeouts to try to smother any chance of a Lumberjack comeback. The long NAU run anticlimactically ended when senior setter Aubrea Bandfield hit a serve flatly into the net.
An emphatic kill by redshirt senior middle blocker Genevieve Florig sealed the deal for the Vikings, who took the win 3-1 via 18-25, 25-20, 25-21 and 25-19 sets. Webb and Lewis left the match third and sixth, respectively, in Big Sky kills per set.
As the Lumberjacks return home to play the Idaho State Bengals (6-12, 2-4 Big Sky) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., a lingering question is the status of sophomore outside hitter Lyla Hollis, who remains out with a non-COVID-related illness and has not played a full match since the 1-3 loss to New Mexico on Sept. 16.
“We’re hoping she’ll be back by next weekend,” Murphy said about her status. “She’s getting integrated into practice this week, and hopefully things go well and she’ll be good to go.”
NAU returns to Flagstaff from a four-match road trip with a four-match home stand, so Hollis should be back by one of those games if everything goes as planned. The Idaho State game may be a stretch for her return, so the following match against the conference undefeated Weber State Wildcats (11-5, 6-0 Big Sky) on Saturday at 6 p.m. could be the perfect candidate for her to play — and exactly one month since her last full outing.
The Lumberjacks fell to 6-9 on the season and 4-2 against conference opponents. With the win, the Vikings retained their third-place spot in the Big Sky Standings, while NAU dropped to fifth place behind Montana State (8-9, 4-2 Big Sky).
The top eight teams in the conference will play in the Big Sky Tournament in Ogden, Utah starting on Nov. 18.