CEDAR FALLS – Perseverance is a word that could be used to describe this 2018-19 University of Northern Iowa women’s basketball season.
The Panthers have secured a No. 3 seed for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with a 19-11 overall record despite rotation players Ellie Howell, Rose Simon-Ressler, Megan Maahs, Kamryn Finley and Mikaela Morgan missing a combined 58 games due to injury.
Howell, a fifth-year senior, joins Maahs and Finley as players who won’t be available when UNI begins tournament play at 8:30 p.m. Friday against Southern Illinois inside the Moline, Ill., TaxSlayer Center. The former first-team all-conference and returning MVC all-tournament selection was allowed to make a ceremonial layup after the opening tip against Illinois State on Saturday in her final game.
“That’s something that I will always cherish and always remember, to be able to do that for her,” Warren said of Howell, who has overcome multiple injuries throughout her college career. “She’s one of the best to ever put on a Panther uniform. It’s extremely sad that it was cut so short, especially in all that she’s gone through rehabbing to come back this year when she did not have to. I couldn’t be more proud of her and all that she was able to accomplish.”
Looking at UNI’s first-round matchup, the Panthers swept Southern Illinois this season — winning 65-53 in Cedar Falls and 76-67 in Carbondale, Ill. Warren anticipates the Salukis will once again attack forwards Bre Gunnels and Heidi Hillyard, who fouled out in their previous meeting.
SIU has balance with one of the MVC’s top guards Mackenzie Silvey and top post players in Nicole Martin.
UNI has turned the ball over at least 16 times in its last three losses, and Warren stated it’s important more players help alleviate the pressure on point guard Karli Rucker.
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“We have to have some of your other kids willing to step up and handle the basketball and take pride in that,” Warren said. “We put a lot of pressure on Karli.”
WRESTLING: UNI placed third at the Big 12 Championships and automatically qualified six wrestlers for this week’s NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh. Heavyweight Carter Isley is the only Panther eligible for an at-large bid, which coach Doug Schwab assessed Monday as an “outside, outside chance.”
Drew Foster led the Panthers by becoming the program’s first two-time Big 12 champion. The 184-pounder from Burlington impressed Schwab with the way he worked a ride against Iowa State’s Sam Colbray in the second period of his 4-1 title decision.
“He just out-fought the guy, out-hustled the guy,” Schwab said. “He out-gritted the guy, out-toughed him. Out, whatever you want to say, he just made up his mind that he was not going to let up an easy escape. … We have to be able to do that more as a team. There was some technique in there, but a lot was just attitude and mentality.”
Jay Schwarm (125), Josh Alber (141), Max Thomsen (149), Bryce Steiert (165) and Taylor Lujan (174) joined Foster as automatic qualifiers. UNI had five of seven wrestlers win matches in the placing round.
“I think that’s important that you end with odd numbers,” Schwab said. “Going into the national tournament with a win, you can build off that.”
TENNIS: UNI ended a near month-long layoff last weekend with a trip to Wisconsin. The Panthers recovered from a 6-1 loss to Milwaukee with a 7-0 win over UW-Whitewater.
The Panthers have another lengthy break before opening conference play on April 5 when they host Drake.