CEDAR FALLS — Traveling with what coach Bobbi Petersen characterizes as a road warrior mentality, Northern Iowa’s volleyball team showcased its talent with a trio of sweeps away from the McLeod Center this past week.
The Panthers held Valparaiso to .082 hitting, and freshman Kaylissa Arndorfer stepped up with lead attacker Karlie Taylor out due to injury during a Monday night victory. UNI’s players returned home from that match at 3 a.m. and were in classes five hours later.
Then on Thursday, the Panthers left for another road swing. After coming out flat during a victory at Missouri State, Petersen saw her team put everything together against Sourthern Illinois.
The Salukis never reached 20 points in a set.
“We were very inspired with our play,” Petersen said, assessing Saturday’s match. “Every part of our game was really strong. The serve and pass game was probably the strongest it has been all year.
“I thought we took a lot of pressure off our defense by serving tough and not allowing them to have all the options that they do have.”
Rachel Koop commanded a UNI offense that hit above .300 in two of the matches, finishing with 113 assists and added multiple kills each match. She was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week on Monday.
“We passed very well so we were able to allow Rachel to do a lot of different things offensively,” Petersen said.
Taylor returned for the weekend matches with her gains passing out of the back row key to UNI’s dominance on Saturday.
“Sometimes passing can be a mental part of the game and she really turned around on Saturday and had the best passing performance of her career,” Petersen said.
This weekend, UNI will host Bradley and Illinois State teams projected to finish No. 2 and 3 behind the Panthers in the MVC preseason poll.
Bradley has opened conference play 3-1 and is coming off a five-set win over Illinois State. Braves’ outside hitter Hannah Thompson is one of the MVC’s top players. She’s surrounded by efficient weapons on the right side and middle. Petersen noted Bradley also features a strong block.
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Illinois State completed a strong non-conference run that included a win over No. 17 Illinois and match points in a narrow loss to No. 10 Marquette. Kylee Martin is a go-to player, averaging 4.05 kills per set. Cedar Falls native Taylor Lynch tallied a career-high 16 kills for the Redbirds in Saturday’s loss to Bradley.
Illinois State features an elite setter in Stef Jankiewicz, who averages 10.58 assists per set.
“I look at their setter as one of the best in the conference, and maybe even the country,” Petersen said. “She’s just extremely talented, gets her hitters in really good situations.”
SOCCER: UNI coach Bruce Erickson is looking towards the start as a key for his team to end a four-match losing streak. The Panthers missed an opportunity to strike first against Loyola on Saturday before the league’s preseason favorites scored three goals in the second half of a 3-0 victory.
Next up, UNI hosts Indiana State 1 p.m. Saturday at the Cedar Valley Soccer Complex. The Sycamores have secured a win and tie in their first two league matches.
SWIMMING: The depth of teams inside the Big Ten Conference has provided plenty of competition for UNI early this season.
UNI’s Katie Taylor won the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 200 IM during duals with Michigan State and Iowa last Saturday in Iowa City. Moriah Ross took the 200 breaststroke against both schools, as well.
The Panthers will host Nebraska at noon on Saturday. The Cornhuskers are known for their depth in distance races.
TENNIS: UNI concluded the individual portion of its fall slate by hosting the MVC championships at Brynes Park over the weekend.
Olivia Fain and Thaissa Moreira rallied to secure a conference championship in the third doubles flight. While a doubles lineup that has changed frequently throughout the fall was competitive in all three flights, singles wins proved harder to find.
Harri Proudfoot won a three-setter at No. 1 singles on the first day over the top player from a strong Missouri State team. Moreira tallied a pair of victories in the back draw after a three-hour loss in the opening round at No. 4 singles. Fain won on the first day of the seventh singles flight before losing a tough three-setter on Saturday.