Northern Iowa's Kate Busswitz goes for a kill during the Panthers' match against USC Saturday morning in Cedar Falls.

CEDAR FALLS — Following a grueling and winless weekend of competition against AVCA Top 25 opponents, tests won’t get much easier for the University of Northern Iowa volleyball team.

Tonight’s 6:30 p.m. rivalry match at Iowa State begins a stretch of five matches over the next six days for a Panthers’ team that sports a 2-4 record with all four losses to ranked opponents.

“It did take a lot out of us mentally and physically,” Petersen said, addressing the last weekend during Monday’s UNI press conference. “But when we scheduled this way we talked a lot about being able to refocus and refuel.”

UNI’s coach pointed towards the serve and pass game as the main culprit for home losses against Creighton, USC and Kentucky. Petersen believes the three schools are among the nation’s top serving teams.

“Usually you have one, two, maybe three really tough servers on a team,” Petersen said. “I thought all three teams we played had more than that. On our side, the service game was the thing as coaches we’ve talked about that we need to get better and stronger.”

Veteran leadership has been found at key positions within UNI’s roster early this season.

Petersen points out senior outside hitter Karlie Taylor recorded double-double totals in kills and digs during all three weekend matches. Junior Kate Busswitz moved from middle to outside hitter and helped the Panthers sideout. Setter Rachel Koop remained patient and worked to better the ball when teammates were struggling to pass out of the back row.

Iowa State (2-3) is coming off a challenging weekend home tournament of its own. The Cyclones dropped a straight-set match to No. 4 Penn State on Friday before losing a five-set Sunday battle against LSU.

ISU features a blend of national and international recruits mixed in with Iowans.

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“We look at this match always as bragging rights for the state of Iowa,” Petersen said. “It’s great for the state. It’s not just great for our universities.

“I know this a match that a lot of our players and a lot of their players definitely have on their calendar at the beginning of the year.”

Following Tuesday’s match, the Panthers will complete in a tournament at No. 21 Missouri (4-0). UMKC, Boise State and Austin Peay are also in the field for the event that runs from Friday through Sunday.

Former Cedar Falls volleyball player Alicia Harrington is a senior on UMKC’s roster. Hudson native Kylie DeBerg leads Missouri with an average of 4.87 kills per set, while Grundy Center native Riley Sents is among the Tigers’ leaders in the back row.

CROSS COUNTRY: Freshman Cassidy Ihns of Crestwood led the Panthers on a shortened Hawkeye Invite race course last weekend with a 14th place individual finish, just in front of teammate Gabby Champion. Senior CJ May, a former Aplington-Parkersburg standout, led the UNI men with a ninth-place time of 18:28 that was 1 minute, 30 seconds faster than he clocked in the event a year ago.

UNI’s women will return their top runner from last season, McKayla Cole, in Friday’s invitational at Illinois State. The men’s top runner at regionals last year, Drake Heinrichs, will also return to action for the first time this weekend.

SOCCER: UNI capped last week’s action with a pair of late goals during a 2-1 road win at South Dakota.

“I think we played three different formations in the last three minutes,” UNI coach Bruce Erickson said. “We played our formation that we play down a goal, scored, reverted back to how we were playing right before that. Then we scored two minutes later and had to kill the game off in our formation when we’re up a goal. The girls really took care of all the little details.”

UNI plays at 4-0-2 UMKC on Friday before returning home to face North Dakota State at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Cedar Valley Soccer Complex.

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