CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa softball coach Ryan Jacobs enters his 12th season with a blend of experience and youthful talent.
UNI opens play this weekend in the Ramada UNI-Dome Classic with Southeast Missouri State, Toledo, St. Louis, Southeast Missouri State and South Dakota State completing the field.
Waterloo native Brooke Craig joins sisters Brittney and Courtney Krodinger and Claire Dudek as senior leaders.
“It’s a great mix,” Jacobs said. “Our senior class has done a great job of setting the tone and leading us. We’ve got a great group of freshmen that are going to add to the mix, not only being in the lineup every day, but also be fantastic role players for us.”
Pitchers Craig and sophomore Emma Olejniczak racked up plenty of innings last year following a season-ending injury to Waterloo native Jaclyn Spencer. Spencer is in rehab protocol after undergoing offseason surgery. Her bat may return to the lineup soon, while it will take more time for her to get back into the circle.
Freshmen Erica Oler of Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Hannah Kelley of Davenport Assumption were two of the state’s most successful senior prep pitchers last season. They’ll provide added depth.
“The nice thing about all of them is they’re all different in some way, whether it’s velocity or command or playing defense in the circle,” Jacobs said.
Kamryn Shaffer of Ottawa, Kan., is another impact freshman. Jacobs projects her powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. She has the ability to play any infield spot.
Jacobs said speedy junior second baseman/outfielder Jenny Kohl has made a big jump entering the season. Junior Sammey Bunch and Courtney Krodinger are back as options up the middle on defense, while Brittney Krodinger – who has never opened a season at the same position – will make the move to first base.
Juniors Tiana Drahn and all-conference selection Olivia Brooks return to the outfield for a UNI team that finished 26-26 last season.
“I think we should have a good top of the order to begin the season,” Jacobs said. “I’m really excited about us offensively this year and feel like our confidence level is going to be at different spot to begin the season.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: UNI head coach Tanya Warren may have broken her own rule about getting over the games by midnight. Sunday’s 63-58 home loss to Missouri Valley Conference leader Missouri State still stung Monday afternoon.
“It was a good weekend, a couple minutes from being a great weekend,” Warren said. “I’ll be honest. I’m not over yesterday’s game. We had three different shots to tie it.
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“We battled, we turned the basketball over way too much, that’s something we could have controlled. But 29-to-1 (the discrepancy in free throws Missouri State attempted compared to UNI) is something I have never seen on both the men or the women’s side. It’s unheard of, and that’s something I’m struggling with.”
Redshirt senior Ellie Howell was scheduled for an MRI later Monday afternoon after leaving Sunday’s game at the end of the third quarter with a knee injury. Forward Rose Simon-Ressler will return to the doctor Tuesday as she attempts to recover from a foot injury that has sidelined her the past five games. Kam Finley, a key freshman reserve, remains out with a health issue.
WRESTLING: Josh Alber and Taylor Lujan highlighted UNI’s effort against No. 2 Oklahoma State with decisions over a pair two-time All-Americans. Several other matches were close, yet Alber delivered a message of inspiration following the 24-9 defeat.
“Victories are victories and when you get an opportunity you’ve got to really seize those,” UNI coach Doug Schwab said. “I like what Alber said after the meet talking to our young guys about, ‘Don’t be OK with just being close. It’s time to push yourself over the edge.’ That’s what we’re going to work to do for the rest of the season.”
UNI travels to Utah Valley (9-11, 0-5 Big 12) on Saturday. Utah Valley has six ranked wrestlers, but nine starters didn’t compete in their most recent dual, a 53-0 loss at Iowa State.
SWIMMING: A false start denied UNI a relay title in the first event Friday at Iowa. The Panthers, however, recovered with wins in four of the eight individual races.
Coach Nick Lakin was pleased by the production he received from seniors Madison Rinaldi, Kelsey Ostrowski and Lauren Kacmarynski.
“We felt like it was a pretty good day even though the score didn’t end up the way we wanted it to,” Lakin said.
TENNIS: The doubles point was key again for UNI during a 4-3 home win over SIU-Edwardsville Sunday.
UNI will travel to Minnesota Friday before hosting Gustavus Adolphus Sunday at Black Hawk Tennis Club.
“I still think we have a lot of improvement to do on our doubles,” UNI coach Chris Sagers said. “It’s kind of a roller coaster with our team. We’re winning and the fact that we can still play a lot better is good news.”
TRACK AND FIELD: Personal records could be found across the board after UNI split its squad last weekend with the field events competing in Nebraska and the running events on the track at Notre Dame.
“The kids did a really good job of being prepared and ready to go against an opponent we don’t get to see very often,” UNI coach Dave Paulsen said.