Wednesday afternoon, Michigan State met Nebraska on the pitch at Hibner Stadium for a game that was supposed to happen on Oct. 14 but was rescheduled due to weather. It meant Nebraska, fighting for both a berth in the Big Ten tournament and seeding, would play three days after the rest of the league teams had finished their seasons.
Win and you’re a No. 6 seed. Tie and you’re a No. 8 seed. Lose and you go home. Nebraska knew what needed to be done heading into a noon kick. “We were pretty blunt about it,” forward Meg Brandt said. “We just needed to be able to handle that mentally.”
The midday game meant numerous staffers from the athletic department were in attendance, including Athletic Director Bill Moos. Nebraska’s offensive coordinator, Troy Walters, even took a break from game-planning to catch the first half. Seemed fitting then the Huskers (9-6-4, 5-3-3 Big Ten) came out of the gates firing on all cylinders on offense, netting two goals in the first 12 minutes and cruising to a 2-0 win over the Spartans (5-10-3, 0-9-2 Big Ten).
“I think we knew [the offense] wasn’t good enough in the last game so I think that motivation we had coming into this game, we knew it had to be better and we had to execute better,” midfielder Brenna Ochoa said. “It paid off so we didn’t have to worry about it in the second half like we have been lately.”
Senior winger Savanah Uveges got the action rolling in the sixth minute with a laser from about 25 yards away. “It’s early in the game still,” she thought when she let it fly on a breakaway, “let’s take some chances.
“It went in and I was like, ‘Well that’s a good way to start.’”
Brandt scored six minutes later to give Nebraska some breathing room and the Huskers cruised from there.
Coming into the day, Nebraska’s offense had been sputtering. The Huskers hadn’t produced a multiple-goal outing since a 4-3 barnburner win over Indiana on Sept. 20 and were coming off back-to-back one-score losses to Wisconsin and Illinois.
“I think it gave our offense a little more confidence,” Uveges said of the early scoring. “We’ve had a couple rough games behind us but now to have that game and find a rhythm a little bit more and find some combinations, I think it gives us a little tempo to go into the postseason.”
Brandt attributed the success to the days of practice leading up. Be confident on the ball and work together on the attack, she said of the emphasis. Nebraska is starting young players at almost every level and communication has been a major point of emphasis over the last several games.
“I think we’re still kind of struggling on communication all over the field,” Ochoa said.
Part of that has to do with missing their heart and soul on defense. Center back Sinclaire Miramontez has missed the last two games and her absence has been felt. Ochoa said Miramontez is a “huge voice” on the field and they’re having to work through not having that. On Sunday against Illinois, the Illini scored twice on simple execution in the attacking third.
Two freshmen and a sophomore started on the backline Wednesday.
“It’s always hard coming in for those first few games, knowing how to step, where to go, movement patterns, but today they came out and played with so much confidence, you wouldn’t have known they were freshmen,” Uveges said.
As a holding midfield player, Ochoa says her role has changed a little bit with Miramontez out of the lineup and youth filling in, but it’s mostly taking balls that used to be lobbed passes upfield from Miramontez (who Ochoa says has “the best passing range on the team”) and putting them at her own feet to create in through the midfield.
Everything else is business as usual, Uveges says.
“They know their job, they’ve been with us now almost a full season, they know what to do,” she said.
They did their job Wednesday, as did the offense, and the Huskers will have a date with No. 3 seed Ohio State on Sunday to open the Big Ten tournament because of it. The Buckeyes (9-5-3, 6-2-3 Big Ten) tied Nebraska 1-1 in Columbus on Sept. 30 thanks to an equalizing goal in the 57th minute.
“I’m definitely not afraid of playing them again because I thought that we dominated a good portion of the game, we just let in a corner kick,” Ochoa said. “I think we’re pretty confident with how that last game went, obviously we do have a little bit of a different lineup now playing against them but I have all the confidence in this team so we’re excited.”
Ohio State will host, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. CT.
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.