NAU Women’s Volleyball entered the 2021 Big Sky Spring Volleyball Tournament, surprising some people and making a huge run. The Lumberjacks came into this tournament after losing their last three games of the regular season, two of those against Northern Colorado in the Bank of Colorado Arena where this year’s tournament is taking place. The Lumberjacks’ seeding fell during this slump as they came into the tournament with a 9-5 record as the No. 5 seed.
The Sacramento State Hornets ended their regular season with a two-game series sweep of the Montana Grizzlies to give them a 10-6 record and boost in the tournament seeding ranking them as No. 4. NAU and Sacramento State would go head-to-head in the first match of the first round of the tournament.
These two teams met in each of their first matches of the regular season back in January where they split a two-game series in Flagstaff.
In the first set, the two teams were certainly evenly matched. The Lumberjacks came out strong as sophomore outside hitter and All-Big Sky First Team Taylor Jacobsen started with a strong kill. After that first point, NAU made a couple of quick substitutions to bring in freshman setter Katie Hatch and another All-Big Sky First Team player, sophomore opposite hitter Heaven Harris.
The opening set went back and forth with the score being tied, 8-8. However, a string of attack errors from the Hornets on top of a service ace from NAU freshman outside hitter Lyla Hollis caused Sacramento State to call a timeout.
The timeout didn’t help the Hornets at all as they would only score five more points in the set. Another string of kills from NAU paired with more miscommunication on returns led to another Hornet timeout while they were down 18-10. Once again the timeout didn’t amount to much as NAU would go on a 7-3 run to win the first set, 25-18. Attack errors were the downfall for the Hornets as they committed 13 to the Lumberjacks’ one.
Looking to turn it around in set two, Sacramento State turned to senior middle blocker Cianna Andrews who opened with two consecutive block assists followed by a kill to give her team a 4-0 lead. NAU would slowly chip away at the Hornet lead bringing it back to within one, 7-6.
The teams would trade blows all the way till the end of the set as the score would be tied eight separate times. A three-point streak from NAU which included an ace from Hollis caused another Hornet timeout. Following the trend from the first set, timeouts were no help as the Lumberjacks took two more points with yet another ace from Hollis to give NAU a 22-18 lead. The Lumberjacks had the Hornets on the ropes as they took to the second set, 25-20.
Hollis would go on to have a career-high six aces, double the amount that the entire Hornet squad combined.
Once again, Jacobsen took control for the Lumberjacks in their effort to be competitive in the second set. The sophomore had six kills in the set, double the number she had in set 1.
“We have such a young team and she (Jacobsen) is one of our older players at this point even though she’s only a sophomore,” NAU head coach Ken Murphy said about the All-Big Sky First Team player and her leadership.
Jacobsen had a game-high 10 kills and 14 total points.
Looking to do what they did in their season opener, NAU was one set away from sweeping the Hornets. They opened the third set the same way the Hornets started the last as they had a 4-0 lead. Another kill from Jacobsen and a service ace from Hatch gave NAU all the momentum.
Aces would play a major role for NAU as they scored 12 of them compared to Sacramento State’s three.
“I think for us if we can better service pressure and play defense then that will lead to so many good things for us,” Jacobsen said post-game.
The big names for NAU really showed up in this set. Not only did Jacobsen add to her kill total, but she also got it done on the serving block with three more serves to give her a total of five.
In desperation, the Hornets called yet another timeout down, 7-2. The timeout was met with even more Lumberjack aggression as they scored four unanswered points including a pair of service aces from Jacobsen.
Sacramento State simply had no answer for the NAU attack. Any ball they sent towards the Lumberjacks was almost always sent back in large part due to freshman defensive specialist Millie O’Ketter who achieved 22 of the team's 46 digs.
After a second timeout in the third set, the Hornets brought in sophomore setter McKenna Smith and freshman opposite hitter Karlee Soderberg to mix up their play.
A kill from Hollis and a bad set from Smith ended the set and the match in the Lumberjack’s favor, 25-17. With such a dominant win in postseason play, coach Murphy made sure to keep his team’s eyes on the prize.
“We’re planning on playing a couple more matches here,” Murphy said on what’s next for the Lumberjacks. “We gotta keep getting into a rhythm here.”
NAU held down Sacramento State to a total hitting percentage of -0.009. This was the first time the Lumberjacks held their opponent to a negative hitting percentage this season.
With this first-round win, NAU will move on to the semifinals of the tournament and play Thursday at 3 p.m. MST against No. 1 Weber State who took down No. 8 Eastern Washington in straight sets in their first-round match later on Wednesday. NAU handed the Wildcats their only loss of the season back on March 7.
All Big Sky Spring Volleyball Tournament matches can be viewed on Pluto TV channel 1050.