Northern Arizona volleyball felt like it underperformed last season, ending the year with more questions than answers.
The Lumberjacks now have a better idea of what went wrong and how to improve, and doing better with each outing is what coach Ken Murphy wants to see from his team as the non-conference schedule continues.
Northern Arizona finished its season-opening tournament with a 1-2 record, starting the year at home at the Rolle Activity Center with the Lumberjack Classic.
“You always like to see that,” Murphy said of his team’s growth over the weekend. .”
Northern Arizona opened with an early Friday game against Utah State, losing the game in four sets — three of which were determined by three runs or less. The team then lost in straight sets that night to Michigan. Despite the losses, Murphy said there were many positives he witnessed.
“I think we passed, played defensively and served really well,” Murphy said in practice on Wednesday. “I think we were really good in those phases of the game and at a very high level against good teams. If you want to be good at something, that’s what you want to be good at. Now we have to learn how to kill the ball a little better.
The Lumberjacks made just 11 receiving errors over the weekend and forced a total of 22. They also finished the tournament with a total of 23 blocks, averaging 2.3 per set and recording 11 in a weekend-closing win over Old Dominion in straight sets while holding the Monarchs to batting just .042 for the game.
“I feel like that’s a strength for us right now and it’s going to get better as the season progresses,” Murphy said.
While the Lumberjacks showed a big block, it was the little things that stood out for the head coach.
“I think it’s important for us to get the cover playing, the point playing and making sure that when things get crazy we pass the ball to an attacker,” he said.
The offense, however, was heavy on one side of the court for Northern Arizona in its first look at regular season action. Senior outside hitter Taylor Jacobsen carried the charge and more, totaling 159 offensive attempts over the three games. Northern Arizona second outside Kylie Moran finished with the second most attempts at 79, while midfielders Neche Newton and Jordan Elder combined for 82.
As the weekend progressed, Lumberjacks setter Kate Hatch spilled the ball more. Jacobsen had 69 attempts against Utah State in four sets, and the right side of the field only attempted to finish the ball nine times. In the win over Old Dominion, however, opposing hitter Savannah Hasson recorded four kills from 11 attempts, and midfielders combined nine kills from 23 attempts.
“We don’t want it to come down to him too much,” Murphy said of Jacobsen doing the heavy lifting up front. “We know she will be our leader on the offensive side, but we have to balance that a bit more as the season progresses.”
Hatch isn’t just about finding balance on offense. The junior set a career-high in a single game against Michigan, with 16, and she finished with three blocks against Old Dominion.
Additionally, Hatch trails only libero Millie O’Ketter in total digs in the team so far this season with 36.
“I don’t think coming here she thought that was a big part of her game, and now I think it hits her that her serve and defense are really good,” Murphy said.
With growing confidence and an understanding of how to approach success, Northern Arizona heads to the Utah Valley Invitational this weekend to take on teams that are also looking to produce better seasons.
Northern Arizona takes on California, which went 7-24 last season and finished 252nd in the RPI standings, to start the tournament with a game on Friday afternoon. The Lumberjacks next face the Utah State Wolverines, a top-100 team from last season, on Saturday and close the weekend on Monday against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, who now play in the WAC after going 2-14 in 2021 at the Big Sky Conference.
And although injuries continue to plague the Lumberjacks early on, Murphy wants his team to focus on his side of the field.
“We just need a bit more attack because we play a big part of the game at a very high level. We’re doing well in the right areas, doing the little things there,” he said. -he declares.