116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — While the matchup induced some head-scratching, Northern Iowa and Iowa State are set to compete in an NCAA softball regional for the first time since 2013 and 1988, respectively, Friday afternoon.
The head-scratching comes from the NCAA tournament committee pitting the two state rivals against one another in the first game of the Columbia (Mo.) Regional.
Friday’s 1 p.m. matchup (ESPN3) will be the third between the two rivals this season. On Feb. 12 at the UNI-Dome Classic, Iowa State routed the Panthers, 12-2. Two months later, on April 14, UNI (31-28) evened the season series with a 10-2 win in Cedar Falls at Robinson-Dresser Sports Complex.
Entering Friday’s regional with a roster that has no NCAA tournament experience, UNI Coach Ryan Jacobs believes the familiarity with the Cyclones (32-21) will help calm his team’s nerves.
“The way (the team has) prepared the last half of the season on their own (and) now knowing that they’ve actually seen (Iowa State) with their own eyes and it’s not a video thing, I think that adds a little bit of an element of being comfortable,” Jacobs said. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier, because Iowa State is a great team. But, the fact that we know their players — we’ve seen them, we’ve played against them — definitely helps the nerve factor going into that first game.”
The familiarity between the two teams is an advantage for both, however. The Panthers hold a one-sided advantage as their ace Kailyn Packard did not appear in either of the two regular-season matchups.
Packard, a transfer from Missouri-Kansas City, gave UNI the boost it needed this season. The redshirt sophomore recorded a career-best 1.62 ERA and was recognized as the Missouri Valley Conference’s pitcher of the year.
“I would just say sticking to my game plan. Staying with my strength instead of looking for their weaknesses,” Packard said of her approach against ISU.
UNI received its first at-large bid in program history. The Panthers fell short in the MVC tournament championship, 2-0, to Southern Illinois and Jacobs said his team was eager to get back to practice this week.
“I even gave (the team) the option on Sunday night — ‘what do you guys want to do this week for practice?’ And they were all about practicing,” Jacobs said. “I even had to fight for a day off for them for one day because I think they would’ve practiced every single day up until that next game. So, I think the mindset is there.”