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CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa won’t have to step outside of its comfort zone during this week’s Missouri Valley Conference volleyball championship.

The Panthers (23-9, 17-1 MVC) are hosting the MVC Tournament for the first time since Wichita State won the event in 2016. UNI has won the league tournament 17 times in 37 attempts, including last season’s championship at Missouri State.

In addition to securing the No. 1 seed, UNI will also benefit from a scheduling change. The Panthers play either No. 4 seed Bradley (15-14, 11-7) or No. 5 seed Valparaiso (13-19, 8-10) in the first semifinal match at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Saturday’s championship match is slated to start at 4 p.m. inside the McLeod Center.

“I’m thankful we’re the first team that gets to benefit from that,” UNI coach Bobbi Petersen said, assessing the schedule. “I definitely feel, especially as competitive as the matches are, if we’re able to win on Friday that having a little bit longer break would be really needed.”

UNI enters postseason play with an NCAA RPI ranking of 40 and will be on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth if the Panthers don’t secure the league’s automatic bid this weekend.

Freshmen Kaylissa Arndorfer and Emily Holterhaus have been among the players who have stepped into large roles this season, while senior libero Abbi Staack has led the back row following the graduation of a four-year starter at her position.

“I’m incredibly pleased with the amount of growth,” Petersen said. “There was so many question marks this year with a lot of things.

“The developing of our team individually has been huge. Then they’ve been able to bring that together as a unit.”

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: UNI (5-0) has an opportunity to add to its impressive non-conference resume this weekend with games against Alabama (4-1) and Ohio State (3-2) at the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas.

The Panthers followed signature wins over Missouri and Iowa with a dominant performance Sunday during a 78-53 victory against Northwest Missouri State.

Alabama’s lone loss was a 67-64 setback to Hampton in its season opener. The Crimson Tide hit nine 3-pointers during Sunday’s win over Tulane and set a school record with 14 versus Mercer on Nov. 17.

Ohio State was defeated by perennial power UConn on Sunday, 73-62. The Buckeyes have also lost to Ohio this season, 74-68, and have wins over Valparaiso, Cincinnati and Kent State.

“Missouri, Iowa, Alabama and Ohio State, the keys are all very similar to getting wins,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “It’s fresh in our minds.

“Alabama runs a 2-2-1 full-court and half-court press. They want to try to turn you over. They offensive rebound extremely well. They’re a very, very good team.”

WRESTLING: UNI head coach Doug Schwab felt his team let an opportunity slip away against Nebraska on Sunday. The Panthers split 10 matches, but gave up eight total bonus points.

“That is something we’ve got to remedy ... giving up eight bonus points,” Schwab said.

UNI heads to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 6-7 with plenty to build upon.

“I think the fight from the top to bottom was good,” Schwab said. “It is pretty hard to not be excited about how 174 (Bryce Steiert) and 184 (Taylor Lujan) are competing right now.”

Steiert and Lujan each won Top 10 showdowns over Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola and Taylor Venz, respectively.

“I think those are quarterfinal, semifinal matches at the national tournament,” Schwab added.

As far as injured 197-pound returning All-American Jacob Holschlag, Schwab said he will return to the Panther lineup at some point this season.

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