OMAHA — Wichita State didn't want to play college volleyball's version of the waiting game again.
But at least the Shockers know the routine.
Top-seeded and 20th-ranked Northern Iowa completed a perfect run through the Missouri Valley Conference Saturday afternoon, putting together a 26-28, 25-19, 25-11, 25-18 win over No. 3 seed Wichita State in the championship match of the league tournament.
The Panthers extended their winning streak to 28 matches, their longest since 1999. Northern Iowa went 18-0 against the Valley during the regular season, then locked up the league's automatic NCAA Tournament bid by winning the tournament.
Wichita State (25-6) has lost three times to Northern Iowa. But Saturday's defeat marked the first time this year that the Shockers didn't push the Panthers into a fifth set. Northern Iowa on Saturday finished with the edge in kills (62-47), hitting percentage (.267-.145), digs (85-69) and blocks (12-5).
"Half of our losses are to one team, and I think that team is pretty good," said Wichita State coach Chris Lamb, whose program hadn't played in the Valley's championship match since 2005. "What Northern Iowa can do defensively is special, and they just kind of wear on you that way."
Wichita State, which last won the Valley tournament in 2004, still has a shot at an at-large NCAA invitation for the third consecutive season. The Shockers came to Omaha with an RPI of 28 and added wins over Southern Illinois and Missouri State to their resume.
The NCAA selection show airs at 2 p.m. today on ESPNNEWS.
"I've trained myself not to think about it," Lamb said of Wichita State's at-large chances. "That's because of things that have happened to us in the past as well as things that have happened to other programs.... I try not to get too caught up in that anymore. I've been numbed by past experiences."
Northern Iowa coach Bobbi Petersen can relate to Lamb's trepidation, but she said she thinks the Shockers "have a great shot" at making the postseason.
"You never know — I can understand why he'd have those concerns," Petersen said. "If we would've gotten beat tonight, we'd have the same concerns. But I just think with the strength of our conference, and especially the last few years getting multiple teams in — I just think it would be a shame if (Wichita State) didn't get in."
Wichita State's late surge in the first set — Northern Iowa led 24-22 and wasted three set points — could've sent the Panthers reeling. But Northern Iowa steadily began to dominate the match.
Michelle Burow, Beth Discher and Shannon Aschoff all reached double-digit kills, and all three of them hit better than .300 in the match. Credit for that feat goes to the Panthers' standout setter, Bre Payton, chosen tournament MVP.
Wichita State setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper and outside hitter Emily Stockman both made the all-tournament team. Stockman finished with 15 kills Saturday, while Kim Wadsworth added 13.
Northern Iowa played twice in Omaha, compared to three matches for the Shockers. WSU needed five sets on Friday to defeat Missouri State in the semifinals.
But Wichita State libero Melissa Granville said fatigue wasn't a factor in the loss.
"All of us are tired — it's the end of the season — and so is UNI," said Granville, who had 23 digs. "I think you just have to mentally prepare for the game, and I think we were all ready to play."