Panthers picked third in MVC preseason poll



UNI swimmers launch from the starting blocks during last season’s MVC Championship meet in Iowa City. The Panthers finished third at the meet under first year head coach Nick Lakin.

JOEL WAUTERS, Sports Editor | [email protected]

Last summer, Nick Lakin was hired to lead the UNI women’s swimming and diving team after Doug Humphrey left to coach at South Dakota State. Now entering his second season at the helm, Lakin looks to build off his first season as the Panthers head coach after a successful 2017-2018 campaign.

“We’re really excited,” Lakin said. “We’ve had some people make some big progress over the last year, and we’re excited to implement them and get them into some positions to make a difference.”

The purple and gold ended last season with a narrow third place at the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship meet in Iowa City, edging out the Indiana State Sycamores by 10.5 points.

Returning for UNI this season is a group of stellar All-MVC competitors, including Katie Taylor, who took home conference championships in the 200 and 400 yard individual medley (IM) and earned an NCAA B cut time in the 400 IM. Also returning for the Panthers is Kylie Engstrom, who set the UNI school record in the 1650 freestyle en route to a conference title in the event, and sprinter Crystal Florman, who took first in the 50 freestyle at the MVC Championships in 2017 and reset the UNI and MVC record for the 100 butterfly.

The Panthers also welcome a strong freshman class to their team, one that Coach Lakin is eager to work with.

“All the way across the board they’ve been doing a really good job in exceeding some of our expectations coming in,” he says. “Alivia Soares looks great and Sam Galvin has been doing an outstanding job in training. Courtney Schaefferand Lauren (Vilims) have also done a great job. They’ve filled in our board and are really making a difference in the practices already.”

In the diving well, the Panthers return with a solid lineup set to take the leap on the one and three meter springboards. Senior Alyssa Dueso leads the pack after a fifth place finish at the MVC Championships last season scoring 221.70. Sophomores Izzy Bunchek, Mary Kate Ferlmann and Jayden Lovellalso return as the Panthers look to make a lasting impact on the boards.

Two UNI alumni, Michael Hagensick and Bethany Hovland, also join the team as coaches this year. Hagensick coached locally with the Black Hawk Area Swim Team as well as the high school teams for both Waterloo West and Cedar Falls. Hovland returns to UNI where she competed as a diver from 2009-2013, where she won the 2011 MVC one-meter springboard title, the only UNI diver to win a conference diving crown.

The Panthers were selected to finish in third place again this season in the MVC preseason poll behind unanimous favorite Missouri State and second place Southern Illinois, whom both finished ahead of UNI at last season’s championship meet. 

Looking towards a new year of competition, Lakin said he feels confident his team can make an impact. “We got a really good group coming back a quite a few All-MVC performers,” Lakin said.. “So, we’re looking forward to getting rolling and get a good first test at UNO and against Nebraska and really see where we’re at.”

UNI will open the season on Oct. 5 and 6 with back-to-back dual meets at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and against the Nebraska Cornhuskers respectively. The Panthers will host their first home meet on Friday, Oct. 13 against the South Dakota State, Western Illinois and Valparaiso. The 2019 MVC Championships will be held Feb. 20-23 in Columbia, Missouri.