CEDAR FALLS — Before the season began, Tanya Warren said her University of Northern Iowa women’s basketball team had a chance to grow into something special.
The Panthers have accelerated through those growing pains and moved on to growing gains with a nine-game winning streak, a 13-4 overall record and a 6-0 start to the Missouri Valley Conference campaign.
“I’ve said all along that if we can get consistency from our bench we have a chance,” Warren noted Tuesday at UNI’s weekly coaches’ luncheon. “It’s never been about 1 through 5 for us. It’s always been about 1 through 13. You’re starting to see our bench have a lot more confidence and consistency to what they’re doing on both ends of the floor.”
Lately, that group has primarily consisted of Ellie Herzberg, Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Taylor Hagen, Abby Gerrits and Heidi Hillyard while freshman Megan Maahs and sophomore Mikaela Morgan are settling into impact roles in their first season as starters.
This week’s challenges are Indiana State Friday at 7 p.m. and Loyola Sunday at 2 p.m. Both games are at the McLeod Center.
Indiana State (10-6 overall, 4-1 MVC) comes to town on a four-game winning streak.
“They have one of the best guards in the league,” Warren noted. “They present a couple of matchup problems in terms of what they run offensively with their ball-screen offense,” said Warren. “They’re big and not only can they score on the block but they can step out and shoot the 3 and shoot it pretty effectively.”
Sunday’s game against Loyola (2-14, 1-4) will be Alumni Day for UNI when the Panthers get a chance to honor some of their former players.
TRACK AND FIELD: UNI opened its indoor season Saturday at Iowa’s Hawkeye Invitational. Head coach Dave Paulsen was encouraged by what he saw.
“It was a solid opener for us,” said Paulsen. “We have a lot of young student-athletes in our program. On the way back from the trip, I was kind of looking at our travel roster and noticed that we had 35 out of 77 athletes competing who are freshmen.
“We had six event champions and six top 10 performances in school history, so any time you can start a season with those kinds of marks it gets you excited for what’s to come.”
UNI will return to Iowa City for the two-day Larry Wieczorek Invitational Friday and Saturday.
WOMEN’S SWIMMING: The Panthers picked up dual wins over Loras and Iowa Central Friday and will face Illinois State on Senior Day this Friday in the Glen Henry Pool.
“It’s probably our biggest dual meet challenge of the year to this point,” said head coach Doug Humphrey. “Illinois State is extremely talented. They’ve improved themselves from a year ago.
“The nice thing about this group is no matter what challenge has been put forth to them, they seem to shine and relish this and look forward to more competition rather than easier competition.”
WRESTLING: Although UNI wasn’t at full strength, the Panthers found a way to edge 13th-ranked Central Michigan Sunday on a criteria tiebreaker.
Friday night, UNI heads to Hilton Coliseum to take on state rival Iowa State.
“It’s a big meet for a lot of reasons,” said Panther head coach Doug Schwab. “I know they make it a big meet. They’ll have everyone on the side of the mat. They’ll be excited and ready. For us, we have to respond to that.
“If we can’t get our blood boiling a little bit for this one then we’re going to struggle ever getting our blood boiling. I’m going to tell you we’re not going to have trouble doing that. We’re going to be ready to wrestle.”
UNI returns home to the West Gym Sunday to host Mid-America Conference foe Eastern Michigan at 1 p.m.