CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s volleyball quest for redemption won’t come easy in the NCAA Tournament.
UNI (24-10) will attempt to secure its second NCAA victory over the past three seasons against a daunting Missouri team (21-7) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Lincoln, Neb.
Missouri ranks third nationally with a .303 hitting percentage and is a much-improved offense from the one UNI coach Bobbi Petersen says her team saw during a four-set loss to the Tigers on Sept. 13. Petersen points to Hudson native and outside hitter Kylie Deberg (4.82 kills per set on .286 hitting) and middle Tyanna Omazic (2.64 kills per set on .388 hitting) as two special athletes.
In total, five different Missouri players are averaging at least 1.77 kills per set, making it tougher for UNI to stick to the game plan it had in its earlier meeting to focus on limiting Deberg.
“They’re loaded offensively and you cannot focus on trying to shut down any one person,” Petersen said. “Their setter (Andrea Fuentes) has done a really good job. She’s grown a lot throughout the year and really does a nice job of getting her hitters in really good positions.”
Illinois State torched UNI’s defense to the tune of a .337 hitting percentage during Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final, marking the highest efficiency the Panthers have allowed all season. That includes matches against the AVCA’s No. 4 Texas, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 15 Creighton and No. 16 Marquette.
Reflecting on the loss to Illinois State, Petersen said UNI needs to do more to come up with plays during unenviable situations where an attacker is facing just one blocker at the net.
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“Missouri will be tougher because they have kids that can hit a lot of different things. It’s not like you can place your defenders in one spot. They have to do a really good job of reading the situation. Because their tempo is so fast, it’s a little bit harder to do that.”
Matching fire with fire will also be key for UNI against Missouri’s talented offense.
“We’re going to have to work really hard at trying to be sharp offensively, because if you can sideout you’re going to hang right in there with any team you play,” Petersen added.
WRESTLING: UNI heads to what coach Doug Schwab calls the toughest in-season tournament in the country this weekend at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
“Not quite as many teams in it as there have been, maybe 32 teams signed up ... but still a great tournament and a lot of good guys at every weight class,” Schwab said. “Obviously a great opportunity for our team.”
The Panthers will also send a contingent of wrestlers to the Buena Vista Open on Saturday.