Piper Thomas Fuels N. Iowa to Finals with Missouri State; MVC Semis Recap

  0 Derek Johnson | November 24th, 2017 | College - Women's Indoor, Missouri Valley Conference, News


#1 (#25) MISSOURI STATE DEF. #5 INDIANA STATE 3-0 (26-24, 25-15, 25-16)

The top seed and regular season Missouri Valley Conference champion dispatched of Indiana State in straight sets to advance to the tournament finals. The win keeps Missouri State in a good territory, as although their RPI was 44 coming into the week, their eye test should be enough to get in. This might secure that as they still haven’t lost to a MVC opponent.

The Bears were led by an efficient and balanced attack as they out-hit Indiana State .324 to .148. That came about with seven Bears logging hitting percentages of .238 or above with a quartet at .333 or better. Lily Johnson was the leader in kills to give her a double-double (14 kills, 13 digs).

On the other end of the court, Missouri State used a stronger serve (5-1 in aces) and an advantage in the block (8-5) to limit Indiana State despite Nikkie White (12 kills, .250). Aubrey Cheffey was key in that block, as she posted a match-high six for the match.

Both teams showed potential in the opening set, as seven ties occurred. However, Indiana State couldn’t get over that hump as Missouri State edged things out 26-24. After that, the Bears had plenty more space as just one tie and lead change occurred over the course of the next duo of sets, leading to the Missouri State victory.

As Missouri State moves a match closer to an automatic bid as opposed to needing an at-large with a middling RPI, Indiana State’s season is likely over. They still have hope for the NIVC, but with a losing record even that might be difficult.

#2 (RV) NORTHERN IOWA DEF. #3 ILLINOIS STATE 3-1 (25-20, 24-26, 25-22, 25-15)

In the two-three matchup, (RV) Northern Iowa overcame Illinois State to advance to the finals and a date with Missouri State. The Panthers are an interesting team because they ranked 48th in the latest RPI, however have some great wins and based on the ‘eye test’ should be in the NCAA Tournament field. Now, they will push things to the limit if they are unable to win the automatic bid tomorrow.

It was a simple but well-executed approach for Northern Iowa: have setter Heather Hook (56 assists, 15 digs) feed the big guns in Piper Thomas (47 attacks), Bri Weber (43 attacks) and Karlie Taylor (37 attacks). The other four attackers combined had 54 swings for the match for a Panthers offense that hit .276. Not only was there volume (53 kills), but Taylor hit .324 for efficiency. None stood out more than Thomas’ night though, as she did not have a single attack error on her 47 swings to go with an astounding 28 kills.

Illinois State got some options working as well as Juma Armando (14 kills, .281), Jaelyn Keene (14 kills, .229) and Ella Francis (13 kills, .200) recorded strong numbers. However, the Northern Iowa block – led by Thomas again (10 blocks) – posted eight more team blocks (14-6) and helped quiet the other Red Birds’ options as the other six attackers posted just a .005 hitting percentage for the night. The stingy backrow of Northern Iowa was key in that as well, led by Kendyl Sorge (25 digs).

It’ll be interesting to see how Thomas and Weber handle the fatigue now going forward, although they should be fine since they got a bye through the first round. That next opponent for testing that will be Missouri State, a team ranked 25th in the nation, #1 in the Missouri Valley and a squad who downed the Panthers twice this season. For Illinois State, their NCAA Tournament hopes are done, but with an RPI of 95 coming into the week they have a solid shot at making the NIVC.

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