Lumberjacks rally, top Grizzlies in four sets
Oct. 12, 2013
Northern Arizona dropped the first set and trailed 24-22 in the second, but the Lumberjacks rallied and then cruised to a 23-25, 26-24, 25-17, 25-17 victory over Montana Saturday night at the West Auxiliary Gym in Missoula.
Northern Arizona (12-5, 6-2 BSC) hit .313 and out-blocked the Big Sky Conference's top blocking team to pick up its first league road win of the season and remain in a three-way tie for second in the Big Sky behind unbeaten North Dakota.
Montana (7-10, 4-4 BSC) could have pulled within a game of second place with a win, but the Grizzlies hit just .126 in the final three sets after using some clutch blocking to pull out a tight win in the opener.
With the first set tied 21-21, senior Brooke Bray and junior Kelsey Schile teamed up to block NAU's Janae Vander Ploeg. One point later, Bray and senior Kortney James did the same thing to Vander Ploeg, and Montana went on to a two-point victory.
In the second set Northern Arizona used the block to come back from a 24-22 deficit.
Facing two set points, the Lumberjacks blocked senior Kayla Reno to pull within 24-23, then blocked redshirt junior Natalie Jones to draw even. After a Montana timeout, NAU put down back-to-back kills to stun the home crowd, not to mention the home team.
"I think it was obvious that wasn't the end we had in mind for that set," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "Certainly you can point to that as not instilling as much confidence going forward as it could have.
"We only passed well enough during that sequence to create one legitimate opportunity to put the set away."
Northern Arizona, which hit .387 in the third and fourth sets, used unanswered runs to pull away in both of its one-sided wins. Montana led 10-6 in the fourth set, but the Lumberjacks scored eight of the next nine points to take control.
NAU finished with a 14-8 blocking advantage, and when the Lumberjacks weren't blocking, they were digging the Grizzlies. Northern Arizona had 21 more digs in the match than Montana.
"They kept themselves around with some timely blocking and some very good defense," Wagner said. "Then the difference in the third and fourth sets was that they controlled the ball better than we did in our own house.
"That was the final straw. It was going to be a tight match all night if our level of ball-handling was better than a visiting team, but it didn't turn out to be that way."
Sydney Kemper had 19 kills on .361 hitting and six blocks to lead Northern Arizona. Schile had 13 kills on .290 hitting and Bray added five blocks and a career-high three service aces for Montana.
The loss negated what was one of Montana's best serving matches of the season. The Grizzlies had a season-high eight service aces. Senior Megan Murphey matched Bray with three.
Montana will face a pair of important matches upcoming. The Grizzlies will travel to California and take on Sacramento State (9-10, 4-4 BSC) next Friday night. The two teams are currently tied for fifth in the Big Sky standings.
A week from Monday Montana will close out the first half of its league schedule with a home match against a resurgent Montana State (5-14, 3-5 BSC) team. The Bobcats, who beat NAU in five sets on Friday, won their third straight Big Sky match Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over Southern Utah.
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