UNI knocks off two undefeated MVC opponents

JOEL WAUTERS, Sports Editor | [email protected]

Facing an uphill battle against two of the best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), the UNI volleyball team picked up crucial wins last week over the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and the Valparaiso Crusaders.

Heading into their showdown with Loyola last Friday, the Panthers held an 8-6 record on the season. The start of their MVC play is 2-0, after sweeping Indiana State earlier this week. 

The Ramblers entered the contest as one of five teams still undefeated in conference play, along with UNI and Valparaiso.

The Panthers came out strong on the attack, outperforming the Ramblers by tallying 54 kills to Loyola’s 33. The purple and gold also struck Loyola with a .265 hitting attack throughout the match. Despite the Ramblers out-blocking UNI eight to three, it was the Panthers, led by Piper Thomas and Kate Busswitz, who shut down any hope of the Ramblers making an offensive move. 

Thomas led the match with 18 kills, as Busswitz provided an additional 15 kills plus two blocks and an ace serve. Each set came down to the wire, but it was UNI who came out victorious with 25-22, 25-23 and 25-22 to hand Loyola their first defeat in MVC play.

In a quick turnaround, the Panthers traveled to Valparaiso, Indiana, the next day to take on the Crusaders in another battle of the MVC’s undefeated teams. Just as they had done a day earlier in Chicago, the Panthers came out strong on the attack. 

Thomas notched a season high of 19 kills along with a .472 attack percentage, her fourth straight match with an attack percentage over .400.

 Busswitz, along with Karlie Taylor and Jaydlin Seehase, each posted double-digit numbers in kills as Rachel Koop tallied 47 assists. Koop is now averaging 11.5 assists per set this season. 

UNI was able to hold off the Crusaders in the first set, 25-20, before falling in the second set, 25-19. After the setback, UNI rallied to the end, taking the final two sets, 25-21 and 25-23, to knock off another undefeated team in the MVC three sets to one.

The Panthers currently sit tied for first place in MVC play along with the Bradley Braves and Illinois State Redbird as the only three remaining unbeaten conference teams at 4-0. 

UNI (10-6) will host another set of back-to-back matches this weekend at the McLeod Center, as they host Illinois State on Friday night and Bradley on Saturday night. Both matches are set for a 7 p.m. first serve.