The 2012 University of Northern Iowa Panther softball team captured the program's first outright Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship with a 21-4 league mark. UNI shared a MVC regular season crown in 2000 with Evansville and Creighton.
UNI head coach Ryan Jacobs is in his fifth season at the helm of the Panther program - one he took over that had gone 17-55 in its previous three Missouri Valley Conference seasons prior to him taking the job.
Panther softball started to turn the corner in the 2009 season when UNI posted a winning mark in league play at 15-11. It was UNI's first winning season in MVC play since that 11-7 mark in 2000 earned the Panthers a share of the league's regular season title. UNI has not had a losing season in MVC play since 2008 and it's no coincidence that Jacobs has led the charge.
"When we were seeking a new coach following the 2007 season, the softball program was searching for a reason to be excited for the future," UNI Director of Athletics Troy Dannen said. "What he's done to turn this program around is nothing short of phenomenal. He has been a terrific leader and mentor for the women in the program, while on-field results have given our fans and supporters reason to be enthused. More importantly, he has established a culture and a foundation which will allow for not only continued competitive successes, but enhanced personal growth and development opportunities for our student-athletes."
Jacobs credits the leadership on this year's squad helping the team achieve the conference title.
"This squad has bought in to it being a team concept," Jacobs said. "But the funny thing is we don't talk about wins and losses. We talk about getting better day-in and day-out throughout the season. We've had a ton of success this year but we've also had fun doing it."
One of the major highlights of the 2012 season came when the Panthers strung together a 15-game winning streak from March 14 through April 7. The Panthers went from 13-9 overall to 28-9 and receiving votes in the National Fastpitch Coaches Assocation top 25 poll.
UNI also won its first 15 MVC games en route to a 21-4 mark. The 21 MVC wins was a school record - bettering the mark of 16 set just last season.
The Panthers had three players earn first-team all-MVC honors. Senior shortstop Mackenzie Daigh (Bucyrus, Kan.), third baseman Whitney Plein (Burlington, Iowa) and Jamie Fisher (Conrad, Iowa) tallied first-team status. Fisher was also named the MVC Pitcher of the Year.
Jacobs said the program would not be where it is today without the dedication and effort from this year's group of eight seniors - Hannah Borschel, Mackenzie Daigh, Courtney Dunker, Leah Embrey, Allison Galvin, Jaye Hutcheson, Whitney Plein and Laura Turner.
"I am very proud of this group of seniors," Jacobs said. "They have done a great job of leading this team in so many different ways. Each one of them is very special to this program in their own unique way. Seniors are the "heartbeat" of the team, and this group has given a lot of life to this program."