CEDAR FALLS — Softball season has arrived for the University of Northern Iowa.
The Panthers will welcome six opponents to Cedar Falls Friday through Sunday for the annual UNI-Dome Classic that provides an early opportunity for a handful of teams to get on the field, albeit an indoor venue.
“We’re just excited to get it kicked off,” head coach Ryan Jacobs said Monday during UNI’s weekly coaches’ luncheon. “We’ve got a very young team this year. We added nine newcomers this year — eight freshmen and a junior college transfer.”
Among the veterans are catcher Anna Varriano, pitcher Alyssa Buchanan and outfielder Macey Wolfe. Alicia Crivaro is also a senior while Samantha Nicholson and Kennedy Bailey are the only returning juniors.
The sophomore class includes several players who made an impact a year ago as college rookies, including Brittney Krodinger, Courtney Krodinger, Bailey Lange and Brooke Craig. Another group of newcomers will get their chance this season.
“A lot of question marks, but exciting question marks because we know how talented they are,” said Jacobs. “It’s just a matter of how they’re going to compete and how they’re going to respond to some live action.”
UNI opens against Toledo Friday at 2:45 p.m., then plays Wisconsin at 7:15 Friday night. Saturday, the Panthers face Montana at 2:45 p.m. and South Dakota State at 9 p.m. before wrapping up the tournament against Nebraska-Omaha Sunday at 2:45 p.m. Preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorite Drake is also in the field, but won’t face UNI.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: A couple of brief and uncharacteristic stretches in the second half Sunday at Southern Illinois cost UNI (16-6 overall) its second Missouri Valley Conference defeat in 11 games.
“Hopefully we can learn from this,” said head coach Tanya Warren. “One of the things that we have to be able to do is play two halves and play them consistently.”
UNI is home for a pair of games this week, hosting Bradley Friday at 7 p.m. and Illinois State Sunday at 2 p.m.
“There’s a lot of season left,” said Warren. “It’s important that we get ourselves back in a rhythm and we start and continue to get better and better on both ends of the floor, and we will.”
WOMEN’S TENNIS: The Panthers (2-0) turned around one of their 4-3 defeats from a year ago with a 6-1 win over South Dakota Friday.
“Very proud of how our players played,” said head coach Chris Sagers, who especially liked how his doubles combinations clicked.
This Friday, UNI plays at Wisconsin-Milwaukee against another team it lost to by a 4-3 margin last season.
“It’s going to be another tough meet for us, but I like how we’re playing,” said Sagers.
WOMEN’S SWIMMING: UNI defeated Western Illinois and fell to Iowa Friday in its final tuneup for the Missouri Valley Conference Championships that will also be contested at Iowa’s pool next week.
“Now we just let things happen and really prepare ourselves to get ready for a great championship in a week and a half,” said head coach Doug Humphrey.
While defending champ Southern Illinois and perennial contender Missouri State will be the favorites on paper, Humphrey is excited to see what his team can do.
“I feel great about the team,” he said. “As excited as I was last year knowing that we were on the verge of really kind making a big impact on the conference meet, this year we’re much more talented, we’re much more confident and we’re much more experienced.”
WRESTLING: After Sunday’s 27-13 loss to No. 15 Oklahoma, UNI is looking ahead to a big weekend of wrestling.
Friday, when Buffalo visits the West Gym for a 7 p.m dual, the Panthers will honor six seniors — Dylan Peters, Cooper Moore, Tyler Willers, Mark Jolchover, Jared Bartel and J.J. Everard.
“They have given a lot to this program,” said head coach Doug Schwab. “Some of them haven’t gotten what they wanted as competitors, but they’ve stuck with our program. Some of them have been injured and they’re still part of our program because they’ve bought into something much more than just the sport of wrestling.”
Sunday, UNI (9-3, 6-0) travels to Missouri to battle the Tigers for the Mid-America Conference dual championship.
“They’ve run the conference for the last handful of years,” said Schwab. “We obviously want to go down there and represent ourselves very well.”