CEDAR FALLS — Championship season has arrived for the University of Northern Iowa track and field teams.
Saturday and Sunday in the UNI-Dome, the Panthers will host the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor meet looking to put on a show for the home fans.
“This is what our kids have worked for since they stepped on campus in August for the start of practice,” head coach Dave Paulsen said Monday during UNI’s weekly coaches’ press conference. “They’re excited and ready to go.”
The Panthers got in a final tune-up at Wisconsin Friday and made some serious noise in the throwing events.
Freshman Darius King of Moline, Ill., erased UNI’s school record in the shotput with a mark of 60 feet, 3 inches, but it didn’t hold up for long. Keegan Tritle, a sophomore from Lisbon and a former three-time high school state champion, followed with an effort of 61-0.75. In all, the Panthers had 10 throwers set personal bests.
“We’re really excited with where that group is at, as well as the team in general,” said Paulsen. “I think we’re well-prepared heading into the weekend.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: UNI heads down the stretch of its regular season in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings (13-12 overall, 9-5 MVC).
With four games remaining, the Panthers are 2 1/2 games behind second-place Missouri State and five games behind league-leading Drake. Wins will be at a premium the rest of the way with three teams hot on UNI’s heels in the standings.
Friday at 7 p.m., the Panthers host an Illinois State team (7-8, 13-13) that has won five of its last six.
“They just play great defense,” said UNI assistant coach Brad Nelson. “They held Southern Illinois to 36 points at home, which is unheard of. They’re really well-coached, they play hard ...”
Sunday afternoon, Bradley visits the McLeod Center for UNI’s senior day when Kennedy Kirkpatrick will be honored.
“She’s really had some big games for us and done a nice job,” said Nelson. “We’ve only had her two years, but she’s really adjusted well.”
SOFTBALL: After a 5-1 weekend in Orlando, Fla., UNI (9-2) will test itself Friday through Sunday at the Easton Bama Bash hosted by Cedar Valley native Pat Murphy and his powerful Alabama program.
The Panthers will play Florida State twice, Alabama once and Georgia State twice.
“I look at is as there’s nothing we can do this weekend that we lose,” said UNI coach Ryan Jacobs. “We go against some teams that we’re not supposed to beat on paper. We embrace it. We love it. We’re going to find out where we’re at.
“It’s going to make us ready for the intensity and the environment that Valley games are going to be like.”
WOMEN’S SWIMMING: UNI got a Missouri Valley Conference record from Katie Taylor in the 400 individual medley, two school records from Kylie Engstrom (1,000 and mile), nine all-conference performances and took third in the team standings at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships.
“Overall for four days it was a really good effort by all the ladies,” said head coach Nick Lakin.
The Panthers will have six important seniors who have made a major impact leaving the program — Molly Lembezeder, Hannah Brummel, Olivia Knowles, Rachel Siebenaller, Maya Appleton and Meredith Gorman.
WRESTLING: The Panthers have two weeks to rest, heal, learn and focus for their first Big 12 Conference Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We’ve had a very, very tough schedule, and I know it’s going to pay dividends for us this last month of the year,” said head coach Doug Schwab.
“I know our guys are prepared. I know it.”
Nine Panther recruits competed in the Iowa high school state tournament last week. Seven reached the finals and six won championships, but Schwab was equally impressed by two wrestlers who finished third — Noah Glaser of New Hampton/Turkey Valley and Tyrell Gordon of Waterloo East.
“The great thing about the guys who got third is how they did it,” said Schwab. “Glaser lost in the first round, then he came back and won five matches. That’s not an easy thing to do. And Tyrell ... he went back to center with about seven seconds left and got a takedown, then got a takedown in overtime.
“Those guys showing that kind of grit and toughness and heart, that’s really important. Those are the kind of guys we want on our team. They don’t throw in the towel when things get tough.”