CEDAR FALLS — There was a big smile on the face of University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball head coach Ben Jacobson Wednesday inside the McLeod Center.
That big smile has been seen a lot inside that arena, but Wednesday it was for different reasons.
During the sixth and final Panther Caravan stop, Jacobson enjoyed the hundreds of Panther fans who turned out to see Jacobson, women’s basketball coach Tanya Warren, head football coach Mark Farley, head volleyball coach Bobbi Petersen and head wrestling coach Doug Schwab.
Jacobson was also happy because Austin Phyfe, UNI’s 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore from Waverly, is back to looking like his old self.
After appearing in seven early games this past season, Phyfe missed the remainder of the season with an illness called vasovagal syncope, where he’d have episodes that would cause him to pass out.
“He is feeling great,” Jacobson said. “He got back into workouts a little bit in mid-February, so he got three to four weeks. But he was just working his way back. Some days it would be a half hour, some days it would be a little longer, and he got back to a point where it was an hour, hour and a half.”
Phyfe’s progress has continued into the spring with individual workouts and work in the weight room with his teammates. The additional good news is that the NCAA has granted Phyfe a medical redshirt.
Jacobson said the hopeful return of Phyfe to the Panther lineup in 2019-20 is big.
“His size, the mobility and strength aspect of it are things he brings to the table and our team missed at times this year,” Jacobson said. “We were proud and really in a lot of ways impressed with how Luke (McDonnell) and Justin (Dahl) played. You talk about valuable experience for those guys. They played well enough at that position to get us to the Valley championship game.
“Those guys did great, but Austin brings a different level of athleticism and mobility.”
UNI will begin eight weeks with eight hours of workouts each week June 10. Then, in mid-July, the Panthers get 10 extra practices to prepare for an Aug. 1-11 trip to Italy where they will play three exhibition games.
FOOTBALL: Farley had a bit of bad news to share with the McLeod crowd as he confirmed starting safety Korby Sander will miss the 2019 season after suffering an ACL tear in spring drills.
“Korby was having a great winter,” Farley said.”He was putting in some hard work, and unfortunately because of that intense work, of how he was practicing, he suffered an unfortunate break.”
The Panthers begin summer workouts Tuesday, a day after hosting 300 athletes for a prospects camp on Memorial Day. The entire squad will be joined by UNI’s large incoming freshman class on June 8, and the squad will open preseason camp on Aug. 1
The Panthers open their 2019 season on Aug. 31 at Jack Trice Stadium against Iowa State.
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VOLLEYBALL: Petersen did not have a lot of new news to share, but she expressed her excitement for the Panthers’ 2019 schedule that includes a trip to Texas to face the powerhouse Longhorns and her daughter, Sydney, who will be a sophomore.
It is also UNI’s turn to host the eighth annual showdown with Kentucky, Southern Cal and Creighton Sept. 6-7.
“It is crazy we are doing this another round,” Petersen said. “I was thinking about that and it will be eight years after this rotation is done. I think all three of those teams will be Top 15 teams ... so, and not even with the matches we will play, you are talking about some high level volleyball.”
The Texas trip, which opens UNI’s season on Aug. 30-31 and also features matches with Liberty University and Texas State, has its own special merits, and includes a return trip by the Longhorns to Cedar Falls in 2020.
“I’m really thankful for the staff at Texas. We are going there and then they are coming here,” Petersen said. “We will get to play them twice, and show off our place in front of our fans, which we think are some of the best in the country.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: UNI added a fourth newcomer to its roster this past week in Fresno State graduate transfer Kristian Cavey, who joins Cailyn Morgan of Iowa City West, Kaitlin Winston of Farmington, Minn,, and Sara McCullough of Ankeny.
Cavey, a native of Colorado, has connections to Iowa.
“Honestly, we had great luck with Kennedy Kirkpatrick (transfer from Bowling Green), and really wish we had her for a third season,” Warren said. “Kristina reached out to us through email. She was born in Ames and is very familiar with the Midwest, and wanted to get back this way.
“As soon as we got the email, we did some homework on her and got some film and really liked what we saw,” Warren added. “She’s 5-foot-11, extremely athletic and can put the ball on the floor, and is a 4.0 in kinesiology and you can’t go wrong, and her visit was tremendous.”
Warren’s team will begin summer workouts on June 3.
WRESTLING: When your program has a recent national champion, people want to talk about him.
And when people want to talk about Drew Foster, that means they want to talk about Northern Iowa wrestling and nobody likes that more than Schwab.
“That is certainly a topic that comes up all the time because you have a national champion,” Schwab said. “When you have a national champion, everyone takes notice of that. When you are watching on Saturday night on ESPN and you get to see a purple and gold singlet win a national title that is a big thing.
“It also is a thing that moves the program forward and is a springboard for everyone. People are excited about that, and when you look at what we have coming back next year, people have a tendency to get excited about that, which is good, too.”
The other good news is UNI’s injured athletes are all back and nearing 100 percent. That group includes 2018 All-American Jacob Holschlag and Oklahoma State transfer Keegan Moore, who figures to slide into Foster’s 184-pound spot.