After leading two sets to one, NAU volleyball ran out of gas in the fourth and fifth sets to surrender a gut-wrenching loss to the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) Wednesday afternoon. The final tally ended at 27-25 (NAU), 25-16 (UNC), 25-17 (NAU), 25-21 (UNC), and 15-7 (UNC).
With a Big Sky Conference No. 3 seed on the line in Greeley, Colorado, NAU volleyball took on UNC in the first game of a Wednesday doubleheader to close the regular season. As of March 17, Weber State University (13-1) and Montana State University (10-2) sit above both NAU and UNC with the Big Sky Conference tournament on the horizon.
The doubleheader was scheduled due to winter weather making conditions dangerous to travel in. Both games were originally scheduled for March 14 and 15.
The opening set was a back-and-forth effort as UNC struggled to hit with a kill-to-error ratio of 14-10, finishing the set with a grisly .058 hitting percentage. The Lumberjacks took advantage of the Bears’ hitting inconsistencies by responding with a .255 hitting percentage. NAU only committed three attack errors in the first set.
Roles reversed in the following set as UNC dominated offensively, garnering 20 kills on a .356% hitting clip.
UNC was led by redshirt senior middle blocker Lauren Hinrichs and sophomore outside hitter Rachel Hickman at the net as the two were already over 10 kills each following the second set.
While it was all UNC in the second set, NAU rallied with a strong third set, winning it 25-17. Once again, the Bears struggled to find consistency at the net even with more kills than the Lumberjacks. On 34 attempts, UNC had 10 kills, but a whopping nine errors as NAU only committed two errors with 11 kills.
The struggling performer for UNC was senior outside hitter Taylor Muff, who committed nine errors to just five kills for a hitting percentage of -.103 after the third set.
With UNC up 10-8 in the fourth set, it was NAU’s chance to prove they can rally from small adversity. However, those chances were thrown away rapidly as they went on a six-point rally to take a comfortable lead in the set. During that stretch, NAU committed two attack errors and allowed two service aces to slip by them.
The Lumberjacks fought back to cut the set to a one-point affair, but the momentum was all but gone for them and in the hands of the Bears.
Once UNC earned the set victory, they cruised in the 15-point fifth set to steal the victory out of NAU’s grasp.
One bright spot for NAU in the match was freshman middle blocker Jordan Elder garnering a stellar 12 blocks, which tied her for sixth-most in school history for a single match.
The Lumberjacks’ star offensive player in sophomore outside hitter Taylor Jacobsen led NAU in kills with 17 on 49 attempts.
For the Lumberjacks to earn momentum back before heading into the conference tournament beginning March 31, they can’t get complacent with set leads and have to stop the bleeding when their opponents start going on point streaks. Those adjustments have to begin Wednesday evening in their regular-season finale against UNC set to begin at 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time tonight.