CARBONDALE — Karlie Taylor had 14 kills to lead Northern Iowa past SIU's volleyball team Sunday on Senior Day at Davies Gym.
The Panthers (24-7, 14-3 MVC), ranked 31st in the latest AVCA poll, sewed up the second seed at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with a 25-16, 25-20, 25-19 sweep. Bri Weber, a preseason all-conference pick, had 12 kills and 11 digs and Piper Thomas added 11 kills and three of Northern Iowa's seven blocks.
Middle blocker Patience Brown led SIU (6-21, 5-11) with nine kills on 22 attacks. Seniors Andrea Estrada and Abby Barrow added six kills each in their final home matches. If the Salukis can win their last two matches on the road next weekend, they'll at least get to practice at Davies Gym next week.
SIU is two games out of the final two spots of the six-team MVC tournament with two to play.
"UNI is a good team, a good digging team, but the good thing is we have a lot of things we can work on next week and know that the last week of conference is super-big for us," Barrow said.
SIU closes the regular season at Loyola Friday night at 7 and at Valparaiso Saturday at 7. Valparaiso (16-14, 7-9) and Indiana State (9-19, 7-9) are tied for the final two spots heading into the final weekend. The Salukis will get into the field if they win their final two matches because they would sweep the Crusaders.
The first tiebreaker in volleyball is head-to-head record. SIU split with Indiana State during the regular season. The Sycamores will get either the fifth or sixth seed with one win, a Valparaiso loss to Missouri State or an SIU loss.
Valparaiso would have to beat either regular-season champion Missouri State or SIU, or hope the Salukis fall at Loyola Friday night. The Ramblers (4-23, 3-13) beat SIU 3-1 in Carbondale earlier this season for one of its four victories.
The second tiebreaker is a power ranking that takes into account how many wins each team has against the toughest competition in the Valley. SIU's win over third-place Drake Saturday night gave them 15 points and could loom large. A win over Missouri State, which no one has yet, is worth 18 points or 17 in the rankings, and the scale goes down from there.
With four new players, and new full-time setters in sophomore Alayna Martin and true freshman Rachel Maguire, SIU is in the middle of its worst season since 2011. The Salukis went 9-18 overall and 3-15 in the Valley that season. Their six wins this year are the fewest since SIU went 5-21 in 1999.
SIU honored seniors Barrow, Estrada, Kolby Meeks, Nellie Fredriksson, Ashley Edelen and Gabriella Shepherd after the match. Fredriksson, who is from Sweden, wore a Swedish flag draped around her shoulders when she accepted the framed jersey from the athletic department.
Thompson, a first-year coach from North Dakota State that took over for Justin Ingram after he left for Illinois-Chicago, was excited to see her oldest players' future even though she wasn't able to be a big part of their past.
"I'm excited to see what they'll do in the future. Every program that I've been a part of, the alumni are huge, so, this is definitely not a good-bye for them," Thompson said. "Yeah, maybe they don't get to play in Davies Gym, but we'll bring 'em back and they can get to play a couple times, and get off the rust after that. I think it'll be exciting to see what they do, because I think they're incredible people."