CEDAR FALLS -- Northern Iowa's stellar 2017 women's soccer season continued with a 1-0 win over Illinois State Sunday in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Head coach Bruce Erickson said his team showed its true nature in the victory, finding a way to win despite not playing its best soccer.
"As our team has shown all year, this team finds a way to get results when we are not at our best," Erickson said. "Winning games through a variety of ways during the course of the year, I think that helped us in crunch time."
The victory moves the Panthers into the semifinals in Springfield, Mo., where they face top-seeded Drake Friday at 3:30 p.m. This is UNI's third trip to the MVC semifinals, and the Panthers will be looking for their first berth in the championship game.
"Being an MVC rival, an in-state rival, I think you grab the attention of our team pretty quickly with that," Erickson said of facing Drake. "We feel pretty good about how we played against these guys a month ago, and I thought we were a better team by and large in that game, just didn't do enough to get the win."
Drake beat UNI 2-1 on Oct. 11 in Des Moines.
VOLLEYBALL: UNI will have its final two home matches this weekend after losing at Illinois State in five sets and sweeping Bradley over the weekend.
Head coach Bobbi Petersen described the loss to the Redbirds as an inconsistent performance across the board, while a much better match Sunday helped UNI improve to 21-6 overall and 11-2 in conference, clinching the Panthers' 33rd consecutive berth in the MVC tournament.
UNI will honor its lone senior Saturday against Indiana State, setter Heather Hook.
"A kid that has not only done a great job for us on the court, but she has grown as a leader," Petersen said of her three-year starter. "She is a great student and does really well in the community. Just a really neat person, so I know she will probably be pretty emotional. It is kind of like the days are long and years fly is how she has been explaining it. Really excited to honor her."
Junior middle hitter Piper Thomas was named the MVC Player of the Week for the third time this season after averaging five kills and hitting .447 in UNI's two matches. The last time UNI had a player earn MVC player of the week honors three times in the same season came in 2011 with Bre Payton.
CROSS COUNTRY: Another outstanding performance was put in by the women's team over the weekend at the Missouri Valley Conference championships in Springfield, Mo., where the Panthers took second, bringing home a trophy for the second consecutive year.
UNI had just an 11-second split between its top five runners, led by Tiffany Christensen in ninth in 17:47.46.
"I could not be happier with how they performed," UNI head coach Dave Paulsen said. "We came in with championship aspirations, for sure, were the defending champions, and had our best race by far all season and Bradley just happened to be a little better on Saturday.
"We did everything right. Our spread was tight, only 11 seconds from first to fifth, and we had all of our girls under 18 minutes which has never happened in program history at the conference championships. You can't really ask for more than to be your best on an important day and we were."
The men finished seventh and were led by C.J. May. It was an injury riddled season for the Panthers, but Paulsen said he likes the culture around the men's team.
"The way we had to deal with a lot of adversity this season, I was proud of the way the guys stepped up," Paulsen said. "The guys stepped up and probably put forth their best effort we've had all season."
WOMEN'S SWIMMING: The team was scheduled to swim twice this past weekend, but one was postponed and the other the Panthers dominated.
UNI won 12 of 16 events in a 178-122 victory over South Dakota with numerous strong performances, including the 200 medley relay team of Katie Taylor, Moriah Ross, Crystal Florman and Molly Lembezeder breaking a South Dakota pool record by three seconds with a time of 2:14.87.
Taylor broke three more USD pool records in winning the 200 IM, 100 and 200 backstrokes.
"I wouldn't say we are exceeding expectations, but we have a lot of people who are moving in the right direction," head coach Nick Lakin said.
UNI is at Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.