CEDAR FALLS -- Nine managed to rise as one last weekend for a University of Northern Iowa women’s basketball team that continues to navigate past all obstacles thrown its direction.
Playing without five-year senior starter Ellie Howell, UNI (15-8, 8-3) used its depth to secure road wins over an up-and-coming Loyola team, 71-65, Friday night and Valparaiso, 64-56, Sunday.
“I continue to be extremely proud with how this team is able to overcome adversity,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “For us to be able to go on the road and win two without Ellie is a huge testament to this team. … We got contributions from all nine kids who were suited all weekend.”
Sophomore guard Nicole Kroeger, who started five games last season, averaged 10.5 points in her first two starts of this campaign. Howell’s status is day-to-day following a knee injury during a Feb. 3 home loss to Missouri State. Warren anticipates Howell will return at some point this season.
“I want her to continue to be aggressive offensively, take what the defense gives her and then continue to do what she does defensively,” Warren said, addressing Kroeger’s role as a starter.
A UNI team that turned the ball over just 11 times against Loyola will be challenged at 6 p.m. Friday in Des Moines by a Drake team (18-5, 10-1) that took advantage of 26 turnovers during the Panthers’ 88-64 loss on Jan. 18 in Cedar Falls.
“They are as good as anybody in the country being able to turn turnovers into points,” Warren said. “Whether it’s twos or threes, they do a tremendous job. We have to value the basketball. … We have to have lower than 15 turnovers to have a shot in that game.”
In addition to Howell, UNI will be playing without Kam Finley. The impact freshman reserve will miss the remainder of the season with a medical issue.
“We do believe that she is going to be able to make a full recovery,” Warren said. “We’re thankful for that.”
SOFTBALL: Winning the series is a consistent goal for UNI coach Ryan Jacobs’ softball program.
Accomplishing that feat during this past weekend’s five-game set inside the UNI-Dome took some moxie. UNI recovered from a 16-0 loss to Southeast Missouri State with a 10-2 Sunday win over South Dakota State to come out of its opening tournament with a 3-2 record.
“To have that humbling experience on Saturday night and get shut out and beat 16-0, that hasn’t happened to us in a long time,” Jacobs said. “I was really happy to see how our kids responded the next day knowing that we were going up against a team that had just beaten Drake the day before and played very well the entire weekend.
“Our kids came out and responded well. Probably played one of our best games of the weekend.”
UNI will play its first outdoor tournament this weekend at the North Florida Invitational. The Panthers will face College of Charleston, Jacksonville and North Florida.
TRACK AND FIELD: UNI will travel to the Shell Shocker meet in Madison, Wis., as a final tune-up prior to the Missouri Valley Conference indoor meet. The Panthers will sit out some of their top performers, while trying to assemble depth.
“We’ll have some people who are fighting for some conference spots competing this weekend,” UNI assistant coach Alex Wilson said. “We’re really excited with where the team is at right now. I think they’re making big strides every weekend.”