GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado's women's volleyball team came out firing on all cylinders against Northern Arizona on Saturday night inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
And the reason for the Bears' quick 2-0 start was obvious: an emotion-filled pregame Senior Night ceremony set the stage for a special night in Northern Colorado's final home match of the regular seasion.
But the Lumberjacks regrouped and completely spoiled the party of the Bears, who came up short 3-2 (25-14, 25-13, 18-25, 23-25, 10-15).
In the end, though, the result in this one didn't really matter for Northern Colorado (16-9, 10-6 Big Sky Conference), who came into the match knowing it could finish no lower than third in the final Big Sky Conference standings.
Northern Arizona (15-10, 7-9) had to win to keep its postseason hopes alive -- and they showed that sense of urgency after the break -- but the Lumberjacks also needed Sacramento State to lose on Saturday night against Portland State.
That didn't happen, ending Northern Arizona's season.
Northern Colorado will now instead play Sacramento State in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament on Friday, Nov. 28, in Portland.
"This actually probably prepares us better for the tournament, than if we would have just swept them 3-0," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said courtside after the match. "We need to be challenged. We're going to be in this situation again more than we're going to be in a position to sweep a team 3-0.
"So we've got our rhythm back, we saw that in game one and two tonight, and we needed that. And we also were challenged, and we needed that."
Carter had a stellar performance in the final home match of her career. She passed out 57 assists, bringing her career total to 2,057, and scopped up 15 digs. It was Carter's seventh double-double of the season.
Carter's effort wasn't enough, though. The Lumberjacks' intensity carried them through in the end.
"I don't know what happened," Carter said. "They were making a lot of errors in the first two games, and they just came on strong in the next three and weren't making as many errors. And we just didn't respond.
"I really wanted to come out and win on Senior Night, but it doesn't affect the rest of our season. I've had a great time here, so I'm going to move past tonight and get ready for the Big Sky tournament."
Junior Taylor Smith has been one of the Bears' best all-around players all season, and that continued Saturday against NAU. She threw down 14 kills with only two errors and hit at a .343 clip. And Breanna VanDerMost scooped up a team-leading 24 digs.
So, now its off to Portland State's Stott Center, where Sacramento State will be awaiting the Bears, who will travel northwest on Thanksgiving Day.
"It's bittersweet to be playing on Thanksgiving weekend," Benson said. "We would all love to be with our familys, but the second place we'd like to be is to be together as a team. We've got a big weekend coming up, and volleyball needs to be our priority."