Nicole Branagh topped the Gophers with 27 kills, and Yvonne Wichert added 21 kills, both season highs. Kim McCaffrey led Northern Iowa with 27 kills. The Panthers enjoyed a 25-8 advantage in blocks, and outhit the Gophers, .246-.169.
The Panthers broke open the deciding fifth game with six consecutive points to take a 12-5 lead. Branagh had two kills and two Minnesota blocks cut the lead to 12-9. The Gophers were able to move to within 13-11, but a Kim Kester kill and a Branagh error ended the match.
The first game featured four lead changes and five ties, and neither team led by more than three points. Minnesota had two chances to serve for the match at 14-11, but Northern Iowa earned kills to stay in the game. The Panthers scored the next four points to take a 15-14 lead and a chance to serve for the opening game win. A Branagh kill earned a sideout, and Lindsey Berg served the next three points to give Minnesota a 17-15 win. Branagh and Charnette Fair had five kills each in the opening stanza, offsetting the eight kills of McCaffrey.
The Gophers raced out to a 5-0 lead in the second game, scoring four points on the serve of Branagh. After the teams traded points, Northern Iowa scored five points on the serve of Alexandra Auker to tie the game at 7. After ties at 8 and 10, Northern Iowa scored five of the last six points of the game to win 15-11. The Panthers hit .333 in the game and limited the Gophers to a .102 hitting percentage. Northern Iowa outblocked Minnesota 7-1 in the second game.
After Minnesota took an early 2-1 edge in the third game, Northern Iowa scored 10 of the next 11 points, the last seven on Auker's serve, to take an 11-3 lead. Minnesota scored five points on Wichert's serve to close the gap to 11-8, but could get no closer.
Northern Iowa jumped out to a 3-0 cushion in the fourth game, Minnesota scored the next nine points to take a 9-3 lead. The Panthers slowly chipped away at the Gopher lead and pulled to within 13-12. Branagh's eighth kill of the game and Lisa Axel's service ace ended the fourth game and evened the match.
Minnesota will play its next five matches at home in the Sports Pavilion. The first of those matches will be Friday at 8 p.m. against Montana State in the Diet Coke Classic. Denver and Navy will play in the first match of the tournament beginning at 6 p.m.