CEDAR FALLS — It might be an understatement to say first-year Northern Iowa women’s soccer coach Bruce Erickson has his Panther squad rolling to begin the 2017 season.

With wins over North Dakota State and Kansas State this past weekend, UNI improved to 5-0 for the first time in school history.

“We had a good weekend. Two good opponents. Two great crowds,” Erickson said. “Our goal was to get better and I thought we got better. Any time you can win and get better that is the double bonus.”

The perfect start has been buoyed by great defense and an opportunistic offense, and the defense really sticks out as the Panthers have yet to allow a goal, outscoring their first five opponents 11-0.

Erickson credits a veteran defensive backfield led by seniors Marianne Gagne, Julianne Trizzino. Allison Bitter, Haley Kerns and Kelsey Hansen, in addition to goalkeeper Jami Reichenberger.

“I really think it is the backbone of our team,” Erickson said of his defense. “Including the goalkeeper, with the back four you have two juniors and three seniors. They have been around the block and there is a lot of experience. I don’t think anything necessarily phases them in terms of opponents.

“They have been tested and the bend but don’t break philosophy with them has been apparent. I like to look at the two or three minutes before and after a goal scored and they have been big following a goal and have been big leading up to scoring a goal.

“Our attack is feeding that. They know if we can score one or two we are in good shape to win the game,” finished Erickson.

Erickson says UNI’s schedule doesn’t get any easier as defending Summit League champion South Dakota visits the Panthers Friday at 7 p.m., before UNI hosts Montana Sunday at Noon.

“Should be another good weekend (to see) where we are at as a group,” Erickson said.

VOLLEYBALL: After starting off with a four-set victory over No. 18 Southern Cal Friday, UNI dropped a five-set match to No. 13 Kentucky and a three-set affair to No. 7 Creighton in Omaha.

“Really proud of our kids and taking full advantage of the opportunity to play not just three of the best teams in the country, but three teams that are very different,” head coach Bobbi Petersen said. “I thought we learned a lot about our teams. Things that we are doing well, things that we need be more consistent with.”

UNI hosted Northern Illinois last night in the only match it will play inside the McLeod Center in its first 16 matches, before heading to Kansas City to face Rutgers, South Dakota and Missouri-Kansas City in the UMKC tournament this weekend.

CROSS COUNTRY: The men’s and women’s team opened competition Friday at the Hawkeye Invitational in Iowa City.

Wichita State transfer Tiffany Christensen paced the women in 12th with a time of 14 minutes 28.4 seconds, with senior Ashley Norem coming in close behind in 14:36.9.

Both Christensen and Norem were coming off long lay-offs because of injuries.

“All we wanted to see was the fitness test,” Panther head coach Dave Paulsen said. “We wanted see where they are at. We probably held three of our top-five girls out of the meet. “

On the men’s side, C.J. May ran a 18:20.4 to finish 13th in the 6,000 meter men’s race.

“I was really happy on our men’s side with how our two through five runners really worked well together and all finished within five seconds of each other. Really a good place to build on as we move forward,” Paulsen said.

The teams return to action Sept. 16 in Madison, Wisconsin.

MEN’S AND WOMEN’S GOLF: It was a spectacular weekend of playing for senior Sam DeBartolo as he captured the Nebraska-Omaha Invitational title with a four-under 209, highlighted by a 3-under 68 in his opening round Sunday.

“What a start to the season for Sam DeBartolo,” UNI head coach John Bermel said. “The course we were playing was a qualifying site for the Web.com Tour that they had three weeks ago and for one kid to be the only kid under par for the tournament says quite a bit about Sam.”

Parker Oleson added a ninth-place showing for UNI as the Panthers took second to North Dakota State.

On the women’s side, the Panthers took fourth led by a 13th-place showing by Emily Snelling.

“Three freshmen and two seniors in our top five,” Bermel said. “The nice part is the first 18 we had a freshman that was low for us, the second 18 had a different freshman that was low for us, and the last 18 we had a different freshman that was low for us.”

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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