The Nebraska soccer team is nothing if not resilient. The Huskers took a lopsided loss and turned it into a learning experience. They’ve committed mistakes that led immediately to goals only to inevitably equalize.
Nebraska hadn’t won in nearly a month before Big Ten play started. When conference play got going they followed a win with a frustrating 4-2 loss to No. 9 Northwestern. The squad of young Huskers weren’t treading water. They were building, tweaking, connecting, coming together to hit their stride at the right time.
The Huskers (7-6-5, 5-3-2 Big Ten) finished the regular season 3-2-1 in their final six games. They already clinched a spot in the Big Ten Tournament before upsetting No. 24 Penn State, 4-2 at Hibner Stadium. Despite a loss at Wisconsin on decision day, the Huskers did enough to secure the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. It’s the first time Nebraska hosts a Big Ten Tournament game and it’s the program highest seed since 2013 when the top-seeded Huskers won the tournament. Nebraska tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings with Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers but earned the No. 4 seed on tiebreakers.
Playing opposite of the Huskers for Sunday’s noon kickoff is No. 25 Ohio State (10-4-3, 5-3-2). The fifth-seeded Buckeyes and Huskers drew 2-2 on Oct. 8 at Hibner Stadium in a testament to the home team’s resilience. Ohio State got out ahead in that game with a 14th-minute goal only for Husker Eleanor Dale to equalize 3 minutes later. The Huskers maintained better possession and more shots until the Buckeyes edged ahead in the 59th minute on a goal from Kayla Fischer. Late heroics from forward Sarah Weber in the 86th minute pulled Nebraska even and left both teams to settle for a point.
“Beginning of the season it was a lot more tense and now we’re just so relaxed with each other,” goalkeeper Samantha Hauk said, “and game after game we’re getting more and more comfortable with each other and that’s making it more fun.”
The young Huskers learned to overcome early conceded goals at the beginning of the season. Then came consecutive losses to Portland and Saint Louis by a combined 7-1 margin. Five of those goals came in the first half against Saint Louis. It became a turning point in the season.
Nebraska was the supreme aggressor in a scoreless draw with North Carolina State the next weekend. In that game the Huskers tallied 17 shots to NC State’s 5. Frustrated with the draw, the Huskers shot out against USC and scored first but couldn’t maintain the second-half fire and again settled for a tie. A convincing 1-0 win over Minnesota was followed by the encouraging 4-2 loss to No. 9 Northwestern. While the Huskers lost by two goals, they pulled to within a goal with a second left in the first half but couldn’t put it back together in the second half.
“That’s one thing I love about this team is that we will start whistle to the end whistle and we won’t give up,” Dale said after that Northwestern game. “Any game now. Tonight it was just silly little mistakes but when we nip them in the bud I think it’ll all come together.”
The Huskers won half their games and seized their spot in the conference standings from there. Nebraska’s wing backs play aggressive and get up field. The forward line is always looking to shoot. They all collapse space and force opposing teams to make quick passes and decisions in order to maintain possession.
Defensive pressure spurs the Huskers’ offense. Weber leads the conference with 4.06 shots per game. She was named First-Team All-Big Ten on Thursday after scoring in half of the games she’s played. Dale is second in the conference with 3.69 shots per game. Dale was named Third-Team All-Big Ten along with midfielder Reagan Raabe. Defender Lauryn Anglim earned a spot on the conference All-Freshman Team and junior Gwen Lane was named to the All-Sportsmanship team.
Sunday’s quarterfinal gives the Huskers some closure. Nebraska qualified for the adjusted 2020-21 conference tournament but the game against Minnesota was declared a no contest due to safety concerns within the Nebraska soccer program. Not including that game, the Huskers haven’t played in the conference tournament since 2018. That year they played Ohio State in the quarterfinals and beat the Buckeyes on penalty kicks.