CEDAR FALLS — It doesn’t matter how a team starts or where it’s at in the middle. It’s where that team is at the finish line that counts the most.
Chris Sagers’ Northern Iowa women’s tennis team ascended to new heights at the close of the 2017-18 outdoor season this past weekend in Springfield, Mo., where the Panthers reached the MVC team championship match for just the third time in program history and first since 2009.
UNI dropped a 4-2 decision to the hosts Bears in the final, but Sagers said it was a fantastic weekend for his program.
“Exciting weekend ... I’m going to talk a lot today,” Sagers said at UNI’s weekly coaches’ press conference.
Entering the tournament as the sixth-seed after a spring of up-and-down results and close losses, the Panthers put it all together.
They topped Illinois State 4-3, highlighted by Gisela Kemper’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over MVC Player of the Year Veronika Golanova at No. 1 singles.
UNI followed that victory with a 4-2 win over second-seeded Stony Brook to reach the finals.
“What I loved about this weekend was everyone contributed,” Sagers said. “Our upperclass players stepped up and played amazing, and to see our freshmen come in at clutch moments to get the wins and seal our victories was just amazing.”
The Panthers graduate just two members from the team — Kemper and Savannah Hunt.
“Nothing to be ashamed of ,.. this team did well,” Sagers said.
“I’m very proud of them and very happy for our seniors Gisela and Savannah to be able to go out with second place in the championships ... to go out with a bang like tha,t I’m just very, very proud of them.”
SOFTBALL: After winning their fourth game in six and taking their second consecutive MVC series Sunday with a 6-1 win over Illinois State, the Panther softball team will have a week to recharge before heading into Southern Illinois for the final regular-season series.
With finals this week at UNI, Panther head coach Ryan Jacobs said it is a good recharging week for his team.
“At the end of that they are little bit more excited, more ready to go and have more weight off their shoulders with finals being over,” he said. “Typically, we play pretty good ball going forward.”
UNI (25-23 overall, 10-12 MVC) needs to have one last series victory to set itself up for a better seed at the conference tournament May 10-12.
Jacobs said a good weekend could see UNI seeded as high as third, while a rough weekend could see them finish ninth in the Valley.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it before where you could go from third to ninth,” Jacobs said.
TRACK AND FIELD: Dave Paulsen’s men’s and women’s track teams are coming off a good weekend at the Drake Relays where the Panthers had 13 top-five finishes, plus several top marks or times in the MVC.
With just two weeks until the MVC Outdoor Championships at Indiana State, Paulsen said a group of Panthers will head to Madison, Wis., this weekend prior to the championships.
“It is a good place to build,” Paulsen said. “We go to Wisconsin this weekend and tune up.
Some kids will take the weekend off and freshen up for conference. Other athletes, we are vying for those last few spots.”