VOLLEYBALL OPENS CONFERENCE PLAY THIS WEEK ON THE ROAD

VOLLEYBALL OPENS CONFERENCE PLAY THIS WEEK ON THE ROAD

Sacramento State Full Release (20 pages) - pdf

The Week Ahead
    After four weeks of non-conference play, Sacramento State will begin the Big Sky Conference portion of the season this week on the road against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Hornets will travel to Cedar City, Utah, to play the Thunderbirds on Thursday at 6 p.m. PDT, and make the trek to Flagstaff, Ariz., to take on Northern Arizona on Saturday at noon PDT.
    The Hornets will bring a 5-10 record into Thursday's matchup after going 1-2 at last weekends' Crusader Invitational in Valparaiso, Ind. Sacramento State's 3-1 victory over Murray State on Saturday evening snapped a four-match losing streak.
    Sacramento State, which has dealt with injuries to starting outside hitters Sloan Lovett and Morgan Stanley, will have played 13 of its first 17 matches away from home by the time this week concludes. In fact, this week's matchups will bring closure to a season-long five-match road trip. The Hornets will finally get some love from the schedule makers next week when they begis a stretch of four straight and five of six matches at home.
    Previously an 11-member league, the Big Sky Conference expanded to 12 teams this year with the addition of the University of Idaho. The league is now split into a pair of six-team divisions. Sacramento State is in the South Division with Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Portland State, Southern Utah and Weber State. The top eight teams with the best conference record regardless of division at the end of the regular season will qualify for this year's Big Sky Tournament.

Multimedia Options
Like every match the rest of the season, fans will be able to watch a free live video stream on both Thursday and Saturday via WatchBigSky.com. All home matches will be streamed in HD, but most road matches will be streamed in SD. Users just need to sign up for a free account through the website and video the remainder of the season is free. Links for all multimedia options (video, audio, live stats) can be accessed on the volleyball schedule at www.hornetsports.com.

A Look At This Week's Opponents
    Southern Utah looks to be one of the most improved teams in the Big Sky. One season after finishing 4-27 overall and 3-17 in the conference, the Thunderbirds have already easily eclipsed their win total from a year ago, and enter the week with a 7-3 record. Southern Utah leads the Big sky in opponents hitting percentage (.096) and ranks second in team hitting percentage (.254). Sacramento State is 3-1 all-time against Southern Utah, which joined the Big Sky in 2012. That includes three straight wins, and a season sweep of the T-Birds last year.
    Northern Arizona enters the week with a 9-2 record. The Lumberjacks began the year on a nine-match winning streak before dropping a pair of three-set decisions at Hawai'i last weekend. NAU leads the Big Sky in hitting percentage (.258), kills (13.42 per set) and assists (12.58 per set). Sacramento State is 31-12 all-time against the Lumberjacks, but NAU has won each of the last four meetings in Flagstaff. The Hornets' last road win against Northern Arizona came via three-set sweep on Sept. 25, 2009.  

500th Div. I Victory Within Reach
Sacramento State is just two wins shy of its 500th win since joining the Div. I ranks in 1991. The Hornets are 498-289 (.633 winning percentage) in Div. I play, and 918-407 (.693) overall. Arguably the most storied program in Sacramento State athletics history, the volleyball team has accounted for two national championships, 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, 27 All-Americans, 18 conference championships and 10 NCAA Div. I Tournament appearances. That includes a streak of 11 straight Big Sky titles from 1997-07.

Hornet In Big Sky Openers
Since joining the Big Sky Conference in 1996, the Hornets are 13-5 in conference-opening matches, and 2-3 when opening the Big Sky season on the road. The Hornets opened the league season on the road last year at Eastern Washington and fell in five sets.

Overcoming First Set Setbacks
Amazingly, of the Hornets' five victories this season, four have come after dropping the first set. By comparison, Sacramento State won four matches all of last season after losing the first set. Still, the Hornets need to do a better job of starting matches as the team has lost the first frame in 13 of 15 matches this year.

As Young As A Roster Could Get
Of the 16 players on Sacramento State's roster, 10 are new to the program, including a school-record eight freshmen. Moreover, the roster includes no seniors, and of the squad's 16 players, only three are upperclassmen in junior outside hitters Lauren Aikels, Lauren Kissell and team captain Sloan Lovett. The six returning players are comprised of two juniors and four sophomores. In fact, on a number of occasions this year, the Hornets have used a lineup consisting of all underclassmen.

Simple Math
When determining a win or loss for Sacramento State, the team's hitting percentage has been a big factor. When the Hornets hit at least .200, they are 4-0, and when failing to hit that .200 mark, the team is just 1-10. Sacramento State's only victory when failing to reach the .200 mark came in Saturday's 3-1 win over Murray State when the team hit .159.

Hornet Notables
Junior outside hitter Sloan Lovett missed the UC Davis and George Washington matches with an ankle injury, but returned to play both matches Saturday against Valparaiso and Murray State…sophomore outside hitter Morgan Stanley, who is usually a full rotation outside hitter, has been limited to playing back row in four of the last seven matches because of injury…among Big Sky leaders, sophomore middle blocker Courtney Dietrich has moved up to second in the league in blocks (1.15 bps) after combining for 16 blocks in her last two matches.