In the first of two exhibition games ahead of the 2019 season, Nebraska took care of business and walked off Hibner Field with a 4-0 win over UNO Saturday night.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
A New Look Up Top
Winger Savanah Uveges applied for and won a sixth year of eligibility this past winter. Nebraska needed one of its best goal-scorers back because its top one, Faith Carter, who netted nine goals in 2018, graduated. Outside of Uveges, Nebraska was returning 10 total scores from a season in which it produced 28.
Finding some production up top was a point of emphasis this offseason.
Head coach John Walker elected to start Saturday with three forwards like normal, but one was a true freshman and the other a former midfielder. Emma Marcus — a newcomer from Winter Springs, Florida, who enrolled in January — played the central striker, and was flanked by Brenna Ochoa and Meg Brandt, both of whom had the freedom to roam and swap sides of the field if needed.
“Without Faith we knew we needed to step it up and find some other girls who can finish,” Brandt said. “As an attacker, I know that myself, Brenna and Emma have all been coming together and really working. We stay after practice to shoot, we spend a lot of extra time.”
Brandt played a similar role last year, but Ochoa set the table with a team-leading eight assists as the offensive initiator in the engine room. With the ball at her feet, she’s one of the Huskers’ most creative attacking players, so it’ll be interesting to see if Walker tinkers with his lineups once the season begins on Aug. 22 against Kansas or if this is a permanent move.
“Brenna’s such an explosive player,” said senior defender Sinclaire Miramontez. “She’s one of our most dangerous attackers. She can do it all. … It’s great that we can get Brenna involved more in the attack because she’s such a dynamic player and I think she’s going to be the player to watch in the Big Ten this year.”
The results were hard to argue with on Day 1. The Huskers produced four goals in the first hour of play and drew 16 corner kicks on the evening. With sophomore Kenzie Coons driving things through the midfield and the Brandt-Ochoa pairing attacking the wings, Nebraska had Omaha on its back foot for the entirety of the game.
(Uveges also picked up where she left off last season, scoring Saturday night off a header in the 43rd minute, so there’s that.)
Sinclaire is Back
A torn ACL ended her junior campaign, and before she went down she was playing as one of the best central defenders in the Big Ten.
Well, she’s back.
— Matt Reynoldson (@Matt_Reynoldson) August 11, 2019
That’s from at least 30 yards out.
And she was just cleared for full-contact at the beginning of this week. Nebraska started training camp on Aug. 5, and senior center back Sinclaire Miramontez was eased into things, but Saturday night she looked like she hadn’t missed a beat.
“Feeling really good,” she said after the game with a smile. “When the play was going on, I was like, ‘Brenna play me the ball, I’m wide open right here,’ and I knew it was going to get served in and I just knew if this pops out, I’m calling (Uveges) off of it and I just felt it coming,” she said.
As flashy an attacker as she was Saturday night, Miramontez was equally as stout a defender.
Nebraska has a high-pressing style of play, with constant pressure on the ball and a backline that at times Saturday night was playing a yard or two away from the half-line. They weren’t tested much, with UNO only getting off two shots. Clean sheets are always great to earn, and the Huskers won’t be complaining, but there are still things to work on with one exhibition left, a road contest with Arkansas on Thursday, Aug. 15.
“Our float-to-press, there were a lot of good moments with that but then some areas where we still need to clean up — just timing and staying together and closing some gaps — so when we go to Arkansas that’s going to be another area of emphasis, especially when we turn the ball over,” Miramontez said. “How quickly can we close down the space with them and try and get the ball back?”
Infusion of Youth
Carter is out the door. Last year’s starter at full-back, Caroline Buelt, also graduated. Striker Elyse Huber transferred to North Dakota State. Nebraska is a team with plenty of youth this season and there will be opportunities for some of those younger players to fill roles once the season begins.
Marcus saw 54 minutes on Saturday and looks like she could play a key role as that central forward.
“She comes in as a different forward,” Brandt said. “She has great foot skills and a killer shot. I think we really needed someone like her. She plays great passes and I think she has a great season ahead of her.”
Maybe that opens up the door for her to play as a false 9 and allows even more space for Brandt and Ochoa to operate. Walker has that option at his disposal. He’s also got a redshirt freshman winger in Adriana Maldonado who pushed the action all night long. She ended with a goal on three shots in 64 minutes (the fourth and final goal of the night in the 56th minute).
“The Scotland trip was actually a huge help for us,” Miramontez said. “Our freshmen got to go to Scotland with us, got to play in a couple games as well, got to experience about 20 practices prior to the start of preseason training camp, which is huge, because normally we can’t work with our coaches at all. Almost all of them were on that trip and they got to learn a lot more, so when training camp came it wasn’t quite a shock to them understanding the tactics and team chemistry.”
Nebraska’s veterans seem excited about the team’s youth.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.