CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa has been a consistent contender for volleyball championships, winning 13 regular-season Missouri Valley Conference crowns since joining the league in 1992.
This weekend, UNI has an opportunity to capture its first outright MVC title since the 2011 team capped a string of three consecutive 18-0 runs through the conference. The Panthers tied for league titles last season and in 2013.
UNI (21-9, 15-1) won’t have to share this year’s championship if it manages to either defeat second-place Loyola (20-9, 13-3) on Friday or secure a win over Valparaiso (12-18, 7-9) on Saturday inside the McLeod Center.
“It’s our mission every year to win a conference championship,” UNI coach Bobbi Petersen said.
UNI enters the week ranked No. 44 in the NCAA RPI and would be on the bubble for an at-large NCAA postseason berth if the Panthers don’t win next week’s MVC tournament.
Loyola and Valparaiso each split last weekend with wins over Bradley and losses to Illinois State. The two schools lead the MVC in blocks and both have active setters.
UNI needed a timely eight-point run in set four to avoid going the distance against Loyola earlier this season, while Valparaiso has gotten healthier since the Panthers swept the Crusaders on Sept. 30.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Tanya Warren is off to her best start in 13 seasons as UNI’s head coach after wins over Missouri (78-73) and Iowa (88-66) improved the Panthers to 4-0.
“The scouting report was extremely similar for both opponents,” Warren said, after taking the time to praise the crowd that turned out for Sunday’s game against the Hawkeyes. “What we had to be able to do against both Mizzou and Iowa is defensively we had to get back in transition. We had to limit their open 3s, and then we had to mix up how we defended their posts.”
UNI continues to find multiple sources of offensive production. The Panthers had nine players reach the scoring column against Iowa, and that didn’t include a single point from season scoring leader Karli Rucker.
“The balance that this team has been able to show early on is a credit to these young women buying into the ‘we factor’ and not the ‘me factor’ and understanding every given night is going to be an opportunity for someone else to step up,” Warren said.
UNI doesn’t return to action until 3 p.m. Sunday against Northwest Missouri State.
WRESTLING: Head coach Doug Schwab had no update on the status of All-American wrestler Jacob Holschlag, who appeared to suffer a right knee injury at Northwestern Sunday. Holschlag missed all of last season after tearing his left ACL.
“I can tell you that when you hurt something, especially when you are coming off an injury, your mind tends to race a bit and think the worse,” Schwab said. “We don’t know where things are at so I don’t have a lot to tell you. He’s going to get another chance, I don’t know when, but he will be prepared and ready.”
UNI fell to Northwestern, 24-20, and will have its home opener at 1 p.m. Sunday Nebraska inside the West Gym.
The Cornhuskers return all-Americans Chad Red (141), Isaiah White (165), Mikey Labriola (174) and Taylor Venz (184).
“They got a good team from top to bottom,” Schwab said. “We are going to have some battles.”