Panthers are dancing again

UNI+defeated+Evansville%2C+3-0%2C+and+Drake%2C+3-2%2C+to+win+the+2022+NCAA+Volleyball+Tournament.

COURTESY

UNI defeated Evansville, 3-0, and Drake, 3-2, to win the 2022 NCAA Volleyball Tournament.

CADEN SHEA, Sports Writer

The UNI Panthers continued their phenomenal season by winning the 2022 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The tournament took place in Evansville, Ind. with the Panthers facing both the Evansville Purple Aces and the Drake Bulldogs. This conference tournament win solidified the Panthers entry into the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, the 24th in school history. The tournament MVP award was given to sophomore Olivia Tjernagel while the Elite 17 award was won by Kira Fallert. Tjernagel was joined by Carly Spies and Sydney Petersen on the MVC All-Tournament team. 

The Panthers first tournament win was a sweep over the Evansville Purple Aces in the semifinals. UNI started off hot in the first set with five different players tallying terminations for the team. Fallert and Emily Holterhaus kept their opponents on their toes by playing fantastic offense throughout the set. The Panthers took the first set 25-19. The second set was a war of attrition as the two teams traded leads and ties throughout the grueling set. The Purple Aces would give the Panthers a way back in as they were unable to convert their four shots at a match point. UNI ended the set with a gritty score of 32-30. Spies helped the team get off to a great start in the third and ultimately final set. The Panthers refused to let Evansville back into the game and were successful as UNI won the match off of a 25-21 set.

Tjernagel had 13 kills in the semifinal game while Holterhaus followed closely behind with 12. Tayler Alden led the team in assists with 32 while Petersen notched 10 digs in the Panther win. Tjernagel also had the best attack percentage of her career with a .688.

The Panthers final challenge in this tournament were their in-state rivals, the Drake Bulldogs, in the championship match. The Panthers got to business right from the jump, boasting an 11-7 score early in the first set. However, the Bulldogs battled their way back and entrapped UNI into a very competitive set, tying the Panthers 19-19 going into the final stretch. Spies and Tjernagel worked together to give their team the lead and eventual 25-20 victory. The Panthers had a rough opening in the second set against the Bulldogs. They powered back to tie things up at 10-10 but it was not enough as the Bulldogs kept up the pressure for the remainder of the set. Drake captured the set 25-19 tying the game up at 1-1.

UNI and Drake were locked in a sort of stalemate in the third set of play. The teams traded runs going all the way to the final stretch. However, the Bulldogs once again stole the set with another 25-19 game, gaining a 2-1 lead on UNI. The Panthers knew they were one loss away from losing the tournament, and they played like it. They shot out to an 8-2 lead. The Bulldogs climbed back, eventually tying the set at 22-22. In a must-win situation, the Panthers capitalized thanks to Inga Rotto’s late-set heroics, winning the set 25-22. In the final set, both teams played like it was win-or-go-home. While the two teams yet again traded leads and ties, it was another late-set effort by Rotto which gave UNI the edge and 15-13 victory and the tournament championship in the process. 

The Panthers earned the chance to compete in the NCAA National Championship Tournament. Their first game will be in Minneapolis, Minn. against the Florida State Seminoles who boast a 19-10 record and the #7 rank in the Texas Region of the tournament. The game will commence at 4:30 p.m. and the winner will face the victor of the game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Southeastern Louisiana Lady Lions.