CEDAR FALLS — Karlie Taylor’s blend of power and improved shot making was once again on display last weekend. Northern Iowa’s junior outside hitter averaged five kills per set en route to earning tournament MVP honors after UNI won all three of its matches at Ball State.
Beyond Taylor, UNI head coach Bobbi Petersen found more production across the board as her Panthers (5-4) recovered from a rare three-match losing streak the week prior.
Middle Kate Busswitz finished with a career-high 13 kills, as four Panthers reached double-digit kill totals during a four-set win over Ball State, while defensive specialist Taylor Hedges tallied a career-high 30 digs during a four-set win over Indiana.
UNI’s first-year starting setter Rachel Koop has developed depth within her team’s attack by gaining comfort utilizing middle Piper Thomas. Thomas and libero Kendyl Sorge joined Taylor on the All-Tournament team.
The Panthers are ranked 27th among voters in this week’s AVCA Coaches’ Poll.
“I did enjoy the production that we got from different people at different times,” Petersen said. “I think the last few weeks we’ve been solely relying on a couple people.”
With several players held out of practice early last week to gain rest, Petersen was also satisfied with her team’s match-time adjustments, including gains from beyond the service line.
“I thought it was probably one of our best serving weekends of the year,” Petersen added. “Our defense in the backcourt was really strong. Now the part of that, that needs to continue to get better is the dig-to-kill ratio, so after we make a play we’re able to get some kind of offense out of that.”
UNI’s final nonconference tournament of the season will take place this weekend at Illinois. The Panthers open with Lipscomb 10 a.m. Friday before facing the AVCA’s No. 8-ranked Illini at 5 p.m. A rematch with No. 10 Creighton is set for 10 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s going to be a challenging weekend for us,” Petersen said. “They’re all probably more offensively balanced than a lot of the teams that we’ve played. ... I think that causes problems for our defense, because one of the areas we need to continue to get better is our blocking.”
UNI SOCCER RETURNS HOME: A third consecutive weekend on the road ended with a pair of losses for the women’s soccer team.
UNI (2-3-2) was shut out at South Dakota State by a 1-0 margin Friday before suffering a 2-1 loss Sunday at North Dakota State. In Fargo, Sydney Hayden scored an equalizer early in the second half off Jordyn Rolli’s assist, but the Bison prevailed with a goal in the 87th minute.
“Overall, I was pretty happy with the performances this weekend despite losing twice to two good teams on the road,” UNI coach Bruce Erickson said. “I think we grew up a little bit in both games. Having to come back (Sunday) and really take control, and then to give up a goal very late was disheartening just because I felt like we were the better team.”
This weekend UNI will host Northern Illinois 7 p.m. Friday before traveling to Iowa State 2 p.m. Sunday. Former Union Community standout Courtney Powell is tied for the Cyclones team lead with two goals, including one game-winner.