MVC sets its sights on No. 9 team in nation

By Gus Bode

Factoid:All matches will be broadcast via the internet on Bradley’s official website, The final match will be televised on Fox Sports Net.

This was no surprise.

For the fifth year in a row, No. 9 Northern Iowa (28-2, 17-1 Missouri Valley Conference) will enter the MVC tournament as the top seed and undisputed best team. The Panthers have steamrolled through the conference this season to post a 17-1 league record and finish two games ahead of second place Southwest Missouri State.


But Northern Iowa’s one loss, which came at Bradley, the sight of this year’s tournament, could prove to be the Achilles heel of the mighty Panthers.

Bradley has won its last two home games against Northern Iowa, which has not lost to a conference foe other than the Braves since 1997. Bradley head coach Scott Luster said his team has simply had the Panthers’ number the past few years.

“I think we match up well with them,” Luster said. “I think whoever we play will have to play very well to beat us, but given the situation, we’re reasonably confident.”

Should Bradley not advance to the second round, Northern Iowa will face Wichita State, which took a game from the Panthers in their own house earlier in the season. Though the Shockers lost the match in four games, winning a game at the West Gym is considered a feat, proving Wichita State is no pushover.

No. 2 Southwest Missouri State (21-6, 15-3 MVC)

The odds-on favorite to face Northern Iowa in Sunday’s final a week ago, Southwest Missouri State lost a bit of its luster when it fell to SIU last Friday in Carbondale.

The win has the Salukis, who the Bears may face in the second round, believing they are even better than their surprise third-place finish indicates. And if Illinois State defeats SIU for the right to face the Bears, they will believe they are better than SMS as well.


Although the Bears are not as intimidating as they once were, a win over the Salukis or Redbirds would vindicate them, and SMS would be decent competition for Northern Iowa.

No. 4 Bradley (18-11, 11-7 MVC)

As this year’s host school, Bradley has a world of confidence going into this weekend. The Braves did not finish the season strong but are still able to say they are the only team who does not fear Northern Iowa.

Before the Panthers, however, Bradley needs to worry about Wichita State in the first round. The Braves and Shockers split their season series with one win apiece, but Wichita State’s victory occurred when Bradley was without the services of its all-conference outside hitter Stephanie Behrns.

Behrns is back, and the Braves think they are as well. Possessing a healthy team combined with a home-court advantage, Bradley fears no one.

No. 5 Wichita State (18-12, 11-7 MVC)

Wichita State is an extremely dynamic team that is difficult to predict because of its youth. The Shockers lost to Indiana State, which finished the MVC season 5-13, but defeated upper-tier teams such as Bradley and SIU.

Sophomore Sara Younes was named MVC player of the week for her 17 service aces in two matches last weekend that earned her team a No. 5 seed.

If the Shockers play like they did during their Saturday dismantling of the Salukis, they will be dangerous to any team in the conference.

No. 6 Illinois State (14-12, 11-7 MVC)

This year, technically, is the worst conference season Illinois State has had in its history. Though a No. 6 seed is nothing to frown about, the Redbirds had never finished worse than fourth in the conference and had never earned a seed lower than No. 3 in the MVC tournament.

But Illinois State head coach Sharon Dingman said she is not concerned about her team’s low seed because the difference between No. 3 and No. 6 is only one match. She is, however, concerned about her team’s psyche – especially her young players.

“For six of our players, it’s their first time in a conference tournament,” Dingman said. “I know they’re excited, and I’m sure there will be some nerves.”

The Redbirds will face SIU, a team they have defeated twice this year, in the first round Saturday morning. But the Salukis’ 0-2 record against Illinois State can be misleading and the Redbirds will not take SIU lightly.

“Our first victory was miraculous,” Dingman said of her team’s come-from-behind victory at SIU in September. “And the second time we beat them we had to play very, very well to beat them. We’re confident because we’re playing well. We’re not confident just because it’s Southern.”

Illinois State will face SMS in the second round if it vanquishes the Salukis for the 25th straight time. The Redbirds have lost both their matches against the Bears this season.

Reporter Michael Brenner can be reached at [email protected]