CEDAR FALLS | A little practice and a little extra rest proved to be a winning formula for head coach Bobbi Petersen's University of Northern Iowa volleyball team.
With just one match last week, the Panthers (11-10 overall, 5-3 Missouri Valley Conference) had some time to take care of themselves, and it paid off with a sweep over Drake Saturday night in the McLeod Center.
"Our kids worked really hard for three straight days, and then we gave them a little bit of extra time off," Petersen said Monday during UNI's weekly coaches' luncheon. "I'm just really proud of the improvements they made in practice and obviously then the next step is being able to execute some of those things during a match.
"I thought our match against the Bulldogs was one of our better matches of the year in terms of some of the things we've been working on."
This week will be a challenge with three MVC matches on the schedule. UNI is at second-place Loyola Tuesday, at Evansville Friday and at Southern Illinois Saturday.
Loyola went into the weekend tied for the MVC lead. After splitting matches at Missouri State (a win) and Wichita State (a loss), the Ramblers are second in the league standings.
"I think the biggest things that present problems for us is they are really strong defensively, but they have two to three of the best pin hitters in the conference," Petersen noted. "They also serve really well. They're top in the conference in service aces ... they're one of the top teams in blocking.
"They really get it done on all sides of the floor, and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Evansville, Petersen said, is a deceptive 1-8 in the MVC.
"They played us to five games when they were here," she said. "They're very good. They're very dangerous, in my mind, at home, and they haven't gotten smoked by anyone."
Southern Illinois is part of a four-way tie for third in the MVC, along with UNI. The Panthers defeated the Salukis in the McLeod Center Sept. 25.
"They were without one of their top middles, who is back and is third in the conference in (hitting) efficiency," said Petersen.
In other volleyball news, UNI middle hitter Piper Thomas of Jesup was named the MVC's Freshman of the Week Monday.
Thomas recorded 11 kills, hit .471 and had four blocks in the sweep of Drake.
WOMEN'S SOCCER: It's been a good news, bad news ride for the UNI women's soccer team lately, which tied Indiana State 0-0 Sunday in a double-overtime battle.
"Lately, we haven't scored many goals. The good news is we're not conceding many, either," said head coach James Price, whose team tied the school record for shutouts in a season (seven). UNI goalkeeper Whitney Blunt broke the school record for shutouts.
"We're doing things right at one end of the field, but we're not putting the ball in the back of the net," said Price. "Obviously, you're not going to win many soccer games if you don't score."
UNI (5-6-4 overall, 1-1-1 MVC) plays at Drake Wednesday night, then hosts St. Ambrose for Senior Night Sunday at 7 p.m. A Panther victory will secure a berth in the MVC tournament.
CROSS COUNTRY: UNI ran a number of personal-bests during Friday's Bradley Classic, including Kelsey Kirchoff's 6-kilometer time of 21:01.50, which was the second-fastest in Panther history.
Trai Bunch, Ben Fick, Shane Kirchoff and Dylan Eigenberger ran PRs for the men, while Kirchoff, Callie Matthews, Ashley Norem and Amber Clock also set new personal bests.
Next up for the Panthers are the Missouri Valley Championships Oct. 31 in Evansville.
WOMEN'S SWIMMING: The Panthers opened their season against Iowa and Michigan State. While the Hawkeyes and Spartans dominated the team results, UNI head coach Doug Humphrey was pleased with his Panthers.
"Overall, we had a very good showing," said Humphrey. "We ended up putting together some swims that I would not expect this time of year."
Molly Lembezeder threatened UNI school records in the 50 and 100 freestyles, Taylor Ostrowski and Kelsey Ostrowski shined in the butterfly events, Veronica Hermann took a major step forward in the breaststroke from the same time a year ago, and divers Sarah Kemp and Allie Bey were among the leaders.
"Everything is moving forward," said Humphrey.
UNI swims at South Dakota Thursday and at South Dakota State Friday.