Illinois State (11-7, 4-2) handed Northern Iowa (12-9, 6-1) its first conference loss of the season Saturday night with a thrilling five set victory.
The road victory marks the first for the Redbirds at the McLeod Center since the 2016 season and the first of Leah Johnson’s coaching and playing career.
Both teams finished last season with a share of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference and a trip to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The opening set gave fans a taste of what was to come follow the rest of the match, a back and forth effort which had ISU ahead 15-13 at the media timeout.
The Panthers would answer with a 3-0 run to take the lead, although the Redbirds would keep the pressure on, it was UNI who held on for the 25-23 set one victory.
The second set saw Illinois State jump out to an early 7-3 behind a trio of kills from Taylor Lynch, Emmy Ogogor and Kaylee Martin to force an early UNI timeout.
Northern Iowa would take advantage of some ISU errors down the stretch, still trailing by a score of 20-17.
The Redbirds stood their ground and sealed set two with a 25-21 win thanks to Sydney Holt’s seventh kill of the match.
Holt continued her strong play in set three, helping the Redbirds grab an early 6-5 lead.
The back-and-forth contest continued, this time with the Panthers using an 8-3 run to take a 13-8 lead halfway through the set.
A scrappy defensive effort by the ’Birds and a Kaylee Martin kill tied the game at 20 apiece, but once again UNI was able to hold on for the 25-22 set three win.
Playing in her homecoming game, freshman Taylor Lynch led the ’Birds to an 8-3 kill with her ninth kill of the match.
The Cedar Falls, Iowa, native finished the match with 11 kills, one of four Redbirds to finish the night with double-digit kills.
The Panthers would spoil the party, using a 9-1 run and ultimately tying the set at 23 points all.
Facing their third loss in the last four games, the Redbirds would respond with a kill by Martin and would hang on for a 26-24 set four win.
The fifth and final set displayed much of what occurred up to the match at that point, multiple tie scores and lead changes before the Panthers pulled ahead 15-14 for a chance to finish off the ’Birds once and for all.
Once again on the brink of defeat, it was Illinois State who ground out tough possessions and stole the match with a 19-17 victory.
The win for the Redbirds was arguably the most impressive thus far this season and capped off a 2-2 two week road trip.