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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Soccer Returns From Iceland Ready to Raise Expectations For 2023

June 10, 2023

First ones out. That title will unceremoniously fall onto the Nebraska 2022 soccer team. After an inconsistent start, the Huskers embraced their potential and made a run involving multiple upsets. After falling a goal shy of No. 1 Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals, they missed the NCAA Tournament. The tournament takes 64 teams, every conference champion and 33 at-large teams. Nebraska was No. 34.

“It was so frustrating at first,” defender Gwen Lane told Jessica Coody on a recent episode of Sports Nightly. “But it’s definitely a lot more motivating. So now we can set our goals even higher and, I think, reach our potential.”

The Huskers were a young, somewhat inexperienced team last season, filled with contributing sophomores. It wasn’t until a lopsided loss on the road to then-ranked Saint Louis that head coach John Walker rallied the squad. They define their potential, he told them. Nebraska, picked to finish No. 12 in the 14-team league, then made the charge to the conference semifinals. In the process they hosted ranked Penn State for the first ever Big Ten Tournament game at Hibner Stadium. A packed 1,500 fans came to watch No. 25 Ohio State play Nebraska. The Huskers won 4-0. Looking back at it, they should have believed in themselves earlier.

“I think going into it we were like, ‘ok, what is this season going to be like for us what should we expect from ourselves?'” forward Abbey Schwarz said. “And I think just not knowing how high we should be setting our goals, what the standard should be. Early on we played OK but it definitely wasn’t our best soccer. So by the end of the season, we were kind of seeing what we’re capable of, at that point.”

Lane (Lincoln Southwest) and Schwarz (Bennington) are two of the team’s Nebraska natives for the upcoming season. In fact, the team is nearly split down the middle, which allowed Walker to split the team in half during a spring scrimmage. Nebraska versus the world, he called it. When trying to remember the outcome, Schwarz and Lane decided Nebraska won. Haley Peterson (Lincoln East), Ella Guyott (Papillion-La Vista), Reagan Raabe (Millard West), Emma Prososki (Omaha Marian), Lauryn Anglim (Papillion-La Vista), Abby Vacek (Lincoln Pius X), Allison Napora (Papillion-La Vista South), Sarah Weber (Gretna) and Briley Hill (Lincoln East) all return for another season in Lincoln. The Huskers also signed Kayma Carpenter (Lincoln East), Reese Borer (Norris) and Ava Makovicka (Gretna) as part of its 2023 recruiting class.

Lane told Coody that most come from different high schools and clubs. They may be aware of each other but they’d rarely been teammates until coming to Nebraska. When they do come to Nebraska, young soccer players from their old clubs watch them. That brings a dream of playing Big Ten soccer right in front of them.

“I think it also means a lot when you’re from here to come play here,” Schwarz said. “We grew up watching Nebraska soccer and it’s awesome that we go get to do that.”

As the Huskers, homegrown and otherwise, aim to build off last year’s motivations, they keep playing. The Huskers scrimmaged throughout the spring. They went 7-1 in the spring season, losing 4-3 to Colorado in snowy Boulder conditions. They also just returned from a 10-day trip to Iceland, where they played clubs and semipro teams of boys, girls and some mixed squads. The Huskers’ direct, pressing style met their possession-based play and allowed younger players to get more minutes.

Along with competition came team building. The squad of 25 was split into various hotel rooms, sometimes four to a room. Only two of those rooms contained a kitchen. Groups went to the grocery store to cook, navigating the ingredients list to accommodate those with allergies. They typically didn’t have much time or space in the community refrigerator. As a result, sometimes 15 Huskers crammed into a hotel room to cook before matches.

The Huskers also took in the sights. A former Clemson soccer player from Iceland guided them through the country’s nature-preserved majestic waterfalls and south shore. The day before their return flight, the team visited the Blue Lagoon, which allowed them to soak and decompress before returning home.

“I think there were a bunch of other places, Spain was on the list, Italy was on the list, those would be cool,” Lane said. “I feel like we’re going to travel to those countries eventually because those are popular destinations but no one really goes to Iceland.”

The Huskers started summer conditioning recently with just the few remaining on campus. Mandatory workouts return in July. Fitness is an important part of the Huskers’ game. Lane stressed the importance of the Huskers staying in shape before those mandatory workouts. Her teammate echoed those sentiments.

“The way our team plays, we run so much it’s actually insane,” Schwarz said. “I’d argue we run more than any other team in the Big Ten. But, like, it’s so necessary. Setting yourself up for success, if you’re a young player, you have that strong fitness base, it can make all the difference coming in the minutes you’re getting.”

Months removed from falling one spot shy, the Huskers are still motivated. They don’t want to fall prey to a lack of expectations early and then play from behind. Schwarz said the team finally turned their fortunes around when they all found individual belief. That confidence became contagious and spread throughout the team. Now, she explained that if they miss a goal, it’s because they’re shooting too high and not too low.

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