Northern Iowa opened first-round NCAA Tournament action in Lincoln, Neb. on Thursday with an impressive 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-13, 25-21) of Kansas State at the NU Coliseum. The Panthers did not trail in set one, trailed for only one rally in set two and were behind in only 11 of the match’s 121 total rallies.
With the win, UNI improved to 25-9 on the season and advanced to Friday’s second-round match against either No. 4 seed Nebraska or Maryland Eastern Shore. The Panthers, who won an NCAA Tournament first-round match for the second straight year, hit .321 compared to a .164 mark for Kansas State. Krista Degeest, Megan Lehman and Macy Ubben each had 11 kills for the Panthers. UNI also displayed outstanding defense, earning a 54-37 advantage in digs and doubling K-State’s three blocks with six of their own.
The loss was Kansas State’s fourth straight, as the Wildcats ended their season with a 21-9 record. KSU, which lost a first-round NCAA Tournament match for just the second time in its last 13 appearances, was held under a .200 hitting percentage for just the ninth time this season. Kaitlynn Pelger paced the Wildcats with seven kills, while Caitlyn Donahoe dished out 25 assists and added eight digs and two blocks.
In set one, Northern Iowa never trailed in a 25-18 victory. The Panthers jumped out to a 5-1 lead and turned a one-point advantage into an 11-7 lead with a 4-1 run. The Wildcats would get no closer than three the rest of the way. KSU timeouts at 17-11 and 20-14 did nothing to stop Northern Iowa’s momentum. Following the second timeout, UNI won the next two rallies to build its biggest lead of the set at 22-14. UNI closed out the seven-point victory on a Lehman kill. Northern Iowa hit a blistering .424 in the first set. A trio of Panthers had four kills in the set, including four kills on six errorless swings from both Lehman and Macy Ubben.
UNI started strong again in set two, racing out to a 6-2 advantage to force an early K-State timeout. The Wildcats got their first kill of set two following the timeout, but UNI stretched the lead to 11-5 and forced a second Kansas State timeout. The Panthers kept their momentum by winning the first two rallies after the break en route to building their first double-digit lead at 18-8. From there, KSU would get no closer than nine, as Northern Iowa closed out the 12-point victory when Lehman and Shelby Kintzel combined for a block on set point. UNI hit .323 in the second set, but its defense led the way. The Panthers recorded four blocks in the set and had 19 digs to limit Kansas State to eight kills and a .051 hitting percentage.
After leading for only one rally in the first two sets combined, Kansas State jumped out to a 4-1 advantage to begin set three. Northern Iowa answered with four straight points to take a 6-5 lead. The teams then traded one-point leads until the Panthers used a 6-1 run to build a 13-9 advantage that forced a Kansas State timeout. The Wildcats continued to trail by at least four until a 4-0 run pulled them within two at 21-19. UNI still led by two at 22-20 before a Lehman kill and a block gave the Panthers four match points. On the second match point, Ubben delivered her 11th kill of the match to power Northern Iowa into the second round. The Panthers had more attack errors in the third set (eight) than they did in sets one and two combined (six), but it did not matter as they finished with seven more kills than Kansas State.