A determined Husker team may be finding its form just in time for the Big Ten season.
Including two shutout preseason games, Nebraska didn’t concede a goal in the first 202 minutes of the season. Then came the season opener and the young squad needed to learn on the fly.
Nebraska conceded a last-gasp goal with 28 seconds left to fall in the season opener against San Diego State. This came after allowing the first goal. Oklahoma scored first the following game but the Huskers rallied with two goals in 18 minutes to grab a win. Then came another conceded goal in the final 20 minutes against Arizona, depriving Nebraska of a win.
“One thing that we’re really trying to focus on is just crashing the net,” Husker sophomore forward Abbey Schwarz said. “I think that’s somewhere we struggled a little bit.”
A convincing 3-1 win over Weber State got the Huskers back on the right track. Only, the train derailed shortly after. Nebraska was shutout by Portland (receiving votes) and got knocked down by No. 12 Saint Louis, 5-1, in the Huskers’ first road game of the season.
That Saint Louis game frustrated the Huskers. After conceding four goals in the first 23 minutes, the team tightened its defense and finished the match. An aggressive team returned to Hibner Stadium to draw with NC State and USC last week. The scoreless match against NC State was the team’s first shutout since the exhibition matches.
“It’s the little things,” sophomore fullback Jordan Zade said the team’s learned after the Arizona game. “Little techniques, it comes down to the last touch you make, everybody needs to be precise as we can.
“And if you make a mistake, get back.”
Now, Husker games have a whole new meaning. This is when the gut-check portion of the season starts. Nebraska (2-3-3) hosts Minnesota (4-3-1) in the conference opener at 7 p.m. on Friday for the only match of the weekend.
The Gophers have won four straight, conceding just one goal in that time. That will test the Husker frontline.
“We do have a lot of returning faces up top and that was our bright spot last year,” Schwarz said. “So we’re trying to get back into that rhythm and see where everyone fits now.”
Schwarz, Sarah Weber and Eleanor Dale start up top most games. Weber’s the leading scorer with three goals while Schwarz and Dale each have one so far. Nebraska is fourth among Big Ten schools in shots (131) but 13th in goals per game (1.13).
It’s been an issue so far for Nebraska. Conceding late goals and getting frustrated when shots don’t become goals. Schwarz credited some of that to the new season and the fresh faces that are still trying to find their game.
“I think one thing for us is settling in and finding our own identity, I think sometimes it gets a little chaotic,” Schwarz said. “I have experience, but it’s still only my second year, so trying to learn from some of those older players and settling down to play our game.”
Ideally, the offense would be sparked by defense. Zade has logged nearly 600 minutes so far, starting all eight games going into the Big Ten season. She’s an aggressive full back, joining the attack to send deep crosses into the box. She’s even registered three shots on goal herself.
The sophomore said the aggression she plays with is a building block for the rest of the team.
“Yes, I think so, get the defense to win balls through interceptions and playing balls early to be aggressive so we can get behind their back line, get their opportunities and go 1-v-1,” she said.
Nebraska beat Minnesota, 2-0, last year, but started the conference slate winless through their first seven games. That came after a promising, scrappy start. The Huskers have made just half the Big Ten Tournaments since 2018. Minnesota bounced them in both those tournaments (2018, 2020-21). So the Huskers can get a little extra sweetness out of a hot start to the Big Ten season.