NORMAL — The offense run by Northern Iowa’s No. 14-nationally ranked volleyball team was like the directions on a shampoo bottle: do a few things and repeat.
In the Panthers’ case it was: make a low pass, a quick set, a kill and repeat.
That formula cleaned the clock of Illinois State, 25-19, 25-22, 25-11, Thursday before a Redbird Arena crowd of 820, the lowest turnout in years.
“They are the fastest offense we have seen all season,” said ISU libero Jenny Menendez, who had a team-high 12 digs. “I don’t think we’re going to see an offense much faster than that.”
The Panthers crushed 51 kills compared to 25 for ISU, which fell to 12-9 overall and 2-6 halfway through their Missouri Valley Conference campaign.
The win was UNI’s 12th straight, putting it at 17-2 and 8-0. The Panthers have won 26 consecutive regular-season Valley matches.
“They really do have probably the best first and second contacts in conference,” said ISU coach Melissa Myers referring to UNI’s all-star duo of libero Ellie Blankenship and setter Bre Payton, the reigning MVC player of the year.
Blankenship fed 13 digs to Payton, who had 42 assists as five Panthers notched at least seven kills led by Amy Braun with 12 and Krista DeGeest with 11.
“The first and second contacts allow them to run a very efficient offense,” said Myers, whose team was outhit, .272 to .110.
After never leading in the first set, ISU rode the tough serving of Mallory Leggett to take a 15-11 lead in the second set. UNI waved off the threat with an 8-2 run.
The Redbirds were still within 23-22 when Shelby Kintzel and Michelle Burrow swatted back-to-back kills.
“I really like the balance that we have,” said UNI coach Bobbi Petersen. “This is one of the best defensive, ball-control type teams that we’ve had. Our block is OK.”
Fans were looking for another close battle in set three, but UNI bolted to a 12-2 lead as Blankenship served up a 10-point run. ISU made all six of its third-set hitting errors during that swoon.
Redbird middle hitter Tabitha Visk can’t be blamed for that as she didn’t play the third set and barely played at all after hitting negative .667 with no kills and four errors on six swings.
“She’s had a great season so far,” Myers said. “We said ‘let’s let some other players get some experience and let’s save her arm for Sunday (at 2:05 p.m. against visiting Bradley).’ ”
Eureka freshman Kelsey Holman got two kills subbing for Visk. Leggett led ISU with nine kills and Shannon McGlaughlin had six.