CEDAR FALLS — Kaylissa Arndorfer is quickly putting the puzzle pieces together.
From quick attacks in the middle to powerful cross-court swings near the right pin, Northern Iowa’s freshman is among the youthful weapons emerging for a Panther volleyball team that competed Saturday without its top two returning hitters at full capacity.
Arndorfer recorded a career-high 18 kills, guiding UNI to a perfect opening weekend of Missouri Valley Conference play with a four-set win over Indiana State inside the McLeod Center, 25-17, 26-24, 25-27, 25-16.
The Waterloo native joins fellow true freshman Emily Holterhaus of Pella as key newcomers working their way into more prominent roles. Battle-tested junior Jaydlin Seehase had been playing limited reps in her return from injury before she was forced into a six-rotation role following an apparent ankle injury to UNI’s top attacker, Karlie Taylor, with the score tied at 12 in the second set against the Sycamores (2-10, 0-2 MVC)
Taylor was one night removed from taking 67 swings in a four-set match and has averaged a team-high 4.79 kills per set to go with 3.21 digs per set.
“It took many different people stepping up,” UNI coach Bobbi Petersen said. “Karlie brings a lot to our team other than somebody that we just set a lot. She’s in every passing rotation except one. She plays great defense for us.
“There’s a lot of things that had to happen for us to be successful. Rather than people trying to overdo it, everybody tried to do a little bit more.”
Senior libero Abbi Staack, who led the Panthers with 30 digs, believed UNI (8-8, 2-0) was equipped to make a significant mid-match adjustment. Taylor entered the night with 740 attack attempts, 332 more than the next person on the team, Kate Busswitz.
“We’re deep in positions so we knew that whoever was going to come in was going to step up and fill that spot,” Staack said. “Karlie gets a lot of kills for us, so I told Kaylissa, ‘Now you’ve got to go. We still have to score points.’ Whoever is on the court, we’re going to get it done.”
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Arndorfer did just that as she only committed one attack error on 31 swings and finished with a .548 hitting efficiency.
“You just know that you have to pick it up and work even harder to come together as a team,” Arndorfer said. “Obviously losing a key player isn’t a good thing and that’s when you really need to pick up the communication.”
“She was on fire,” Petersen added, assessing Arndorfer’s performance. “She’s just doing a really good job of developing her shot selection. I think the biggest stat for me was just having one error.
“She has done a good job of adjusting to sets, understanding when she’s not in a good position to swing hard. She had a couple really good shots in the middle of the court with off-speed which is something that is new for her. I just really love how she’s progressed.”
After Taylor went down in the second set, the Panthers eventually broke free from a 20-all tie with three consecutive points. Seehase terminated a shot off one of Rachel Koop’s 49 assists. Holterhaus then put away an overpass and delivered a block. Indiana State fought off three set points before a kill by Busswitz and a Sycamore attack error gave the Panthers the 2-0 match lead.
Holterhaus strung together three consecutive aces in the third set as UNI rallied from down 14-7 to tie the score at 20. Indiana State eventually recovered and took the final three points of that frame before UNI responded with a dominant fourth-set performance.
ISU managed just nine kills and committed nine attack errors in set four after hitting .368 in the third. The Sycamores hit .150 for the match.
Koop helped complement Staack in UNI’s defense with 15 digs. The freshman tandem of Holterhaus (four blocks) and Arndorfer (three blocks) led the Panthers at the net. Holterhaus added six kills and paced the team with four aces.
“I don’t even look at them as freshmen anymore,” Petersen said. “They’ve had really good experience and they continue to grow. We just talk about trying to get just a little bit better each time we step on the court and I think that’s what they’re doing.”