CEDAR FALLS – UNI volleyball’s 25th trip to the NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday afternoon as the back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season and tournament champions take on the Hurricanes of Miami (FL) for the first time in program history in Madison, Wisconsin.
First serve is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT at the University of Wisconsin’s UW Field House. Should the Panthers prevail in their first-round matchup against the Hurricanes, they will play the winner of No. 3 Wisconsin and Jackson State on Friday night at 7 p.m. CT.
The Panthers are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, carrying a 16-24 all-time record into this year’s tournament, which included a first-round victory over Florida State last year in Minneapolis. UNI has also made three Sweet Sixteen appearances under their 49-year history (1999, 2001, 2002). For the first time since the seeding of each of the region’s top-eight seeds began, Northern Iowa is seeded eighth in the Wisconsin corner of the 64-team bracket. Each of UNI’s last two NCAA Tournament wins have come against Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) opponents, including Louisville (2017) and Florida State (2022).
UNI punched its ticket to this year’s big dance after securing the MVC’s automatic berth via a conference tournament championship, won by the Panthers after sweeping the Southern Illinois Salukis and outlasting the Drake Bulldogs in five sets for the program’s 19th league tournament title. Northern Iowa has also rattled off 21 consecutive victories, the fourth-longest active streak in the country, the eighth-longest stretch in school history and fourth-longest streak under head coach Bobbi Petersen.
The Panthers are ranked 29th in the latest NCAA RPI poll and come into the NCAA Tournament as the nation’s leading team in kills per set (14.97) and assists per set (13.93). Northern Iowa also ranks sixth in Division I in total assists (1,532), seventh in team kills (1,647) and 26th in digs per frame (16.48).
First Team All-MVC and conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year Emily Holterhaus leads the Panther attack with a team-high 400 kills, while also recording 59 blocks. Tayler Alden, the two-time defending MVC Setter of the Year and most valuable player of the MVC Tournament has notched 10.52 assists per set, as second team all-conference attacker Kira Fallert has posted 3.67 kills per frame.
Olivia Tjernagel leads UNI’s blocking defense with a team-high 121 blocks, while libero Erin Powers anchored the Northern Iowa back row with 4.93 digs per set as well as 47 service aces. Also contributing to the Panthers’ success is middle blocker Layanna Green with 2.33 kills and 81 blocks, as well as defensive specialist Grace Mikota (2.41 digs/set), middle blocker Kaylissa Arndorfer (1.51 kills/set and 0.56 blocks/set).
The Hurricanes are making their 12th NCAA Tournament appearance and third straight after posting a 17-11 overall record and 10-8 mark in theACC with an eighth-place finish in the league. Miami’s last win in the big dance came in 2021 in a four-set win over South Alabama. Like the Panthers, the Hurricanes have also reached the Sweet Sixteen in their history, joining UNI in the round of 16 back in 2002.
This season, Miami recorded a pair of top-15 victories in conference defeating Georgia Tech twice, once when the Yellowjackets were ranked ninth in the nation and again when they were ranked 11th. Similar to UNI offensively, Miami brings a potent offense into the postseason and to Madison, averaging 13.68 kills per set, 29th most in Division I, as well as 12.63 assists per frame.
Setter Savannah Vach, a five-time All-ACC selection, led the ACC in both total assists (1,127) and assists per set (10.63) this season, while freshman outside hitter Grace Lopez ranked fourth in the league with 362 total terminations. Two-time All-ACC outside hitter Flormarie Heredia Colon has recorded 3.94 kills per set to earn second team all-league recognition, as middle blocker Janice Leao led the Hurricanes with 79 total blocks this year.