UNI wins MVC opener vs Bradley, falls to Redbirds

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TONI FORTMANN

UNI defeated Bradley in their MVC opener on Friday but fall to Illinois State on Saturday.

DREW HILL

    The UNI women’s volleyball team played its first Missouri Valley Conference game against the Bradley Braves on Friday. The Panthers entered the game 5-8 coming off a loss against Marquette in their previous game, while Bradley came in 4-7. The game was also Bradley’s opening game in MVC play. 

UNI gave the fans a treat in its conference home opener with a 3-0 sweep of the Braves. However, the sets were closer than the final result would suggest. The first set was a back-and-forth affair that ended 25-20 in favor of the Panthers. Tayler Alden helped lead the way with five kills and eight assists. The second set saw another close battle until the Panthers went on a nice run at the end to get the 25-18 win with Emily Holterhaus finishing the set with six kills. In the third set, the Panthers dominated, holding the Braves to only 14 points en route to the set victory and completion of the sweep.

Holterhaus led the way in blocks for the Panthers with 13. Alden had a balanced game with 10 kills and 16 assists. UNI’s Jenna Brandt lead the team in assists with 20. Kaylee Donnor contributed 15 digs and a season-high nine assists. 

For Bradley, Hannah Thompson put up eight kills along with three assists and a block, and Kora Kauling led Bradley with 14 assists. Serena Sparks had 14 digs to lead the way for the visitors. 

The following day saw Bradley move on to defeat Drake the next day in Des Moines to improve to 5-8 and 1-1 in MVC play, while UNI played the Illinois State Redbirds at home Saturday in its second conference game.

Illinois State came into Cedar Falls at 4-9 record so far this season. The game between UNI and Illinois State came down to the wire in set five after UNI came back from a 2-0 deficit creating a thrilling final set.

In the first set, Illinois State jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never fell behind. UNI fell behind by 10 but battled back within three. However, the Redbirds held on to win set one 25-21. The second set was similar as Illinois State stormed ahead after UNI got out to a 6-5 lead. The visitors took the lead and never looked back as they won 25-18. 

Set three saw the Panthers bounce back to take a lead and hold on in the elimination game. UNI got to set point at 24-19 but had to hold off a Redbirds comeback to seal the set 25-23. The Panthers never trailed in the fourth set behind a strong 5-1 start as they tied up the series at 2-2 with the 25-21 win. 

The deciding set went back-and-forth with several runs. The series was tied at four when Illinois State went on a 5-0 run, but UNI responded by evening up the score at 11. However, Illinois State pulled off the win 15-12 to win the set and game.

Holterhaus finished with a season-high 17 kills to go along with 11 digs for a double-double. Brandt tied her season-high with 25 assists. Payton Ahrenstorff set a career-high with 15 digs to lead the Panthers, and Inga Rotto led with a season-high five blocks. For Illinois State, Tamara Otene had 22 kills, Nora Janka dominated with 38 assists and Kaity Weimerskirch led with 23 digs.

UNI fell to 6-9 on the year and 1-1 in MVC play. Illinois State improved to 5-9 on the year and 1-1 in MVC play. UNI’s next matchup is next Friday, Oct. 1 at home against the Drake Bulldogs.