Approaching the final two games of the regular season, Nebraska’s already clinched at least one additional game.
The Huskers are currently No. 7 in the Big Ten standings and a mathematical lock to make the Big Ten Tournament. Despite a 4-0 loss to Iowa on Sunday, the Huskers are seven points ahead of the Hawkeyes in the standings and are beyond reach. That, however, doesn’t mean Nebraska can’t improve its seeding this weekend.
Nebraska hosts soccer rival Penn State in the final home game of the year on Thursday night. Kickoff is slated for 7:05 p.m. at Hibner Stadium. The Huskers then close the regular season on Sunday with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Wisconsin.
Promising young players fill the Huskers’ lineup. Most rely on elders like junior Reagan Raabe from Millard West. She was a third-team All-Big Ten selection last year. This year she’s tallied two goals and three assists. Her new veteran role has allowed her to reflect.
“It’s made me realize how fast the time goes,” she said after the Northwestern game. “But it makes me hungry to win, hungry for goals, hungry to have a great season.
“Looking back, the past couple of seasons haven’t been the greatest but I do see something in this team and even with the loss, like tonight (4-2 to No. 9 Northwestern), I really do think we’re going places.”
One of those places is the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State comes into Hibner Stadium ranked No. 24 in the country. Since 2015, the Huskers are 1-3-2 against the Nittany Lions, including a 1-0 upset in Pennsylvania. Penn State is fifth in the conference standings. Should the Huskers be able to replicate a win, they would leapfrog Penn State in the conference standings. In the unlikely event Wisconsin loses to Illinois, Nebraska would jump the Badgers as well to stand fifth in the conference going into the final day of the season.
Nebraska’s best possible regular season finish is in a tie for second. That would include favorable, but not unrealistic results. Finishing among the top four would allow the Huskers to host a Big Ten quarterfinal. Only the top eight teams in the conference make the tournament and the top four programs host quarterfinal matches. Starting this year, Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio, hosts the semifinal and final. Those will be played Nov. 3 and 6 at the home of MLS’ Columbus Crew.
Historically, Nebraska’s been a sparing participant since joining the conference. The Huskers are 3-2-2 in the tournament. All three wins came in 2013 when the top-seeded Huskers won the conference tournament.
Nearly a decade after that conference championship, the Huskers built different. Sophomore forward Sarah Weber (from Gretna) leads the conference with 67 shots. England junior Eleanor Dale is third with 54. Weber is also tied for second in the conference with eight goals. Goalkeeper Samantha Hauk averages just over three saves per game and has posted four shutouts this year.
Between the top line and goal is a tenacious defense and midfield. The Huskers increased intensity and aggression since the game at St. Louis this year, putting the onus on each player to win their 1-on-1 battles. The Huskers can condense in the midfield to win possession but thrive playing the ball wide on the outside and allowing wing players like Jordan Zade to move in space. Midfielders and forwards flow into the box in hopes of redirecting crosses from the wings into the net.
Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts mentioned the soccer program on Husker Sports Nightly’s Tuesday episode, crediting the team, the coaching staff and head coach John Walker.
“We have high standards here,” Alberts said. “We communicated very clearly, and John and that coaching staff have responded.
“He has a young team, they continue to grow, they’re very talented. So if you haven’t gotten a chance to get out and see the women’s soccer team, we don’t have a lot left, watch the women’s soccer program. They’re fun to watch, they work really hard. That’s a hard working team. They qualified. And I would not sleep on our team. They’re qualified and just about anything can happen.”