CEDAR FALLS – It was a Saturday full of celebration for the 2,376 fans in the McLeod Center as the UNI Panther volleyball team earned sole possession of this year’s Missouri Valley Conference regular season crown with a 3-1 triumph (25-17, 25-20, 24-26, 25-18) against the Missouri State Bears and followed with its Senior Night ceremony that honored Payton Ahrenstorff, Kaylee Donner, Baylee Petersen, Sydney Petersen, Inga Rotto, and Carly Spies.
The Panthers (24-6 overall, 17-0 MVC) are 20-time league regular season champions featuring 15 outright titles. UNI, which recorded the biggest single-year turnaround for an MVC championship team in conference history, also capped its 2022 home schedule with an unblemished 12-0 record. The only other perfect regular season in the McLeod Center came when the 2010 Panthers went 10-0.
UNI’s defense produced a season-high 82 digs along with 11 blocks while Missouri State (9-20 overall, 6-11 MVC) tallied 71 digs and 10 blocks. The Panther offense registered .262 hitting compared to the Bear attacking efficiency of .123 for the evening. Missouri State had a five-to-two service ace lead.
Defensively, the Panthers were led by Sydney Petersen’s career-best 30 digs and the first collegiate double-double for Spies who posted 10 blocks to go with a season-high 16 kills. Tayler Alden’s double-double included a personal-best 56 assists plus 10 kills. Kira Fallert added her own double-double with 16 digs and 12 kills. Olivia Tjernagel and Emily Holterhaus recorded 14 and 13 terminations, respectively in their double-figure offensive outings.
After the Panthers and Bears locked up for eight early ties in the first set, UNI broke an 11-11 deadlock on a three-point run featuring back-to-back Fallert kills. Sydney Petersen’s back-to-back aces in a later 4-0 stretch led the Panthers towards their 25-17 victory which resulted in the quick 1-0 edge in the contest.
Fallert terminations bookended a 5-0 opening to the second stanza, but Missouri State clawed back and pulled even at 12-12 and 13-13. Rotto’s answer on a tiebreaking kill put UNI ahead for good, and Fallert’s set-ending score officially wrapped up the 25-20 win and lifted the Panthers to a 2-0 advantage.
UNI and Missouri State traded points and runs during a third frame which briefly settled into a 20-20 tie. Back-to-back Spies kills started UNI’s surge to 23-20 prior to Missouri State’s four-point go-ahead swing. The Bears converted on their second set point for a 26-24 triumph to extend the tilt.
Two block assists and a kill from Tjernagel factored heavily in a 4-1 Panther outburst to begin the fourth. Although Missouri State trimmed UNI’s 16-9 lead down to 16-13, UNI responded by scoring seven of the next eight points including multiple terminations via Alden and Tjernagel. The Panthers were victorious on their only match-point rally, and the 25-18 victory ended the four-set win.
In-state rivals meet for the regular season finale in Wednesday’s contest between the UNI Panthers and the Drake Bulldogs at the Knapp Center.