The Northern Arizona volleyball team outhit Montana State but could not pull out the five-set win in the Rolle Activity Center Thursday night. The Bobcats moved ahead of the Lumberjacks in the league standings with a 25-18, 23-25, 25-18, 13-25, 15-11 victory, sending NAU (7-11, 5-4 Big Sky) to its second consecutive home loss.
"We knew it was going to be a great match. Montana State is a good team and we came in tonight tied in the standings," Lumberjacks head coach Ken Murphy said. "We're disappointed with the way we competed. We were flat to start the match and we didn't get into a great flow until the fourth set, and when we did we were really good for a while. Statistically we had the advantage, but made a lot of little mistakes on our side that we'll look back and regret."
The Lumberjacks hit .226 in the match and matched the Big Sky's top blocking team in that stat with each team recording 10 blocks. The Bobcats hit .180 and only had one more ace (7-6) and three more digs (78-75) than the Lumberjacks.
As close as the match was, it came down to a small 3-0 Montana State run in the fifth set -- which snapped the 25th and final tie of the match. The three-point spurt broke a 9-9 tie in the decisive game, and NAU could only manage two more points the rest of the match.
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NAU will look to close out its homestand on Saturday when the Lumberjacks host Montana in Flagstaff.
Less than three weeks from the opening tipoff of the 2021-22 season, Lumberjacks were voted ninth by the coaches and 10th by the media in the Big Sky preseason polls released by the league office on Thursday.
NAU received 28 points in the coaches poll to rank ninth -- one spot ahead of its 2020-21 finish. By the media, the Lumberjacks were slotted 10th with 85 points.
Southern Utah, last season's Big Sky regular season champion, is the preseason favorites to defend its title. The Thunderbirds, in their final season as a Big Sky member before moving on to the WAC starting in 2022, notched 8 of 11 first-place votes in the coaches poll and 23 of 29 first-place votes in the media poll.
The coaches and media were in agreement on the top six teams in order with Weber State, Montana State, Montana, Northern Colorado and Idaho State in the second through sixth spots behind Southern Utah.
The coaches favored Portland State over Eastern Washington for seventh and eighth, while the media sided with the Eagles, the defending conference tournament champions, in seventh over the Vikings.
NAU and Sacramento State flip-flopped in the ninth and 10th spots while Idaho was voted 11th in both polls.
The Lumberjacks, led by third-year head coach Shane Burcar, posted a 6-16 overall record and a 4-10 conference mark, landing them in 10th in the Big Sky standings. NAU posted its first conference tournament victory in six years, defeating Portland State in the first round.
NAU returns eight players from last season's squad, led by redshirt junior Nik Mains, who averaged a career-best 8.8 points and shot 40.5% behind the arc.
- Southern Utah – 98 (8)
- Weber State – 91 (2)
- Montana State – 81 (1)
- Montana – 71
- Northern Colorado – 68
- Idaho State – 56
- Portland State – 40
- Eastern Washington – 37
- Northern Arizona – 28
- Sacramento State – 25
- Idaho – 10
2021-22 Big Sky Preseason Media Poll (First-Place Votes in Parentheses)
- Southern Utah – 324 (23)
- Weber State – 290 (5)
- Montana State – 264 (1)
- Montana – 217
- Northern Colorado – 212
- Idaho State – 181
- Eastern Washington – 142
- Portland State – 116
- Sacramento State – 110
- Northern Arizona – 85
- Idaho – 38