CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s volleyball team had the eye-opening non-conference wins and No. 20 national ranking.
But Missouri State’s veteran squad showed Saturday night inside the McLeod Center what it takes to navigate the treacherous twists and turns of a tough weekend road trip in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The league’s defending regular-season champion Bears followed up last night’s marathon three-hour, five-set win at Drake with an impressive victory over UNI in a winner-take-all showdown for a place atop the league standings, 25-23, 29-27, 20-25, 25-22.
Reigning two-time MVC Player of the Year Lily Johnson led the Bears’ charge with 22 kills and 18 digs.
The talented senior showcased her shot-making arsenal after UNI cut its deficit to 19-17 in its attempt to level the match in set four. She slammed one kill down, cut another across the net and then went over the top of the Panthers’ block. After UNI fought off three match points, Johnson’s tip kill ended the contest.
“Lily wants to carry the team on her back at that time,” said Missouri State coach Melissa Stokes, who challenged her team to step up in set four, admitting she’s seen too many 2-0 leads evaporate in this building. “There’s times where you want to go away from her because you know teams are going to put a double-block on her. Then there’s times where I can just look at her and know she wants the ball and she’s going to get it done.”
UNI head coach Bobbi Petersen said she’s impressed with the toughness revealed by Johnson, who has evolved from a heavy pounder as a freshman into a complete shot-maker.
“She had 88 swings last night (at Drake) and that kid is still firing her arm and doing what she did tonight,” Petersen said. “That’s a special person and that’s somebody that you know is tired, but there’s no way she’s going to let that be seen. She’s a great example to even a lot of our kids that think they’re tired at times.”
Johnson was part of a balanced attack within a veteran Missouri State team (16-5, 8-0) that features four seniors.
UNI (17-5, 7-1 MVC) was out-hit .232-.218 and MSU converted 70 percent of its sideout opportunities prior to intermission. Seven untimely service errors also prevented the Panthers from completing their late rallies in the three sets they lost.
“I thought their serve and pass game, they way outdid us in that part of the game,” Petersen said. “All their hitters when they’re in system are very hard to defend. It stressed our defense out and you could tell we were getting frustrated.”
Piper Thomas led UNI with 20 kills on .471 hitting. Bri Weber finished with 14 kills, while Karlie Taylor and Jaydlin Seehase added 11 apiece with Heather Hook recording 51 assists. Weber also had 23 digs.