Two minutes and 49 seconds into Sunday’s match, Senior Day moods turned tense.
Illinois forward Makena Silber found the back of the net off a cross into the box to put the Illini up 1-0 on the road in a match with Big Ten Tournament seeding ramifications. Illinois (11-7, 6-5 Big Ten) scored again 20 minutes later, a cushion that allowed it to withstand a second-half rally from Nebraska (8-6-4, 4-3-3 Big Ten) to win 2-1.
“We definitely didn’t outplay them competitively, they were the stronger team in the first half,” junior center mid Brenna Ochoa said after. “We have a little bit of inexperience right now but we definitely need to do a better job of communication and helping those younger girls in the back.”
The Huskers were missing junior center back, and leader of the defense, Sinclaire Miramontez, who left last Thursday’s game against Wisconsin with a knee injury. In her place was freshman Olivia Brown. Illinois clearly felt it had a size advantage and came out of the gates looking to play bully ball with the Huskers. Six fouls were called on the Illini in the first, eight were called in the second and each of them were more than earned.
“They definitely out-muscled us,” senior defender Caroline Buelt said. “I just think competitive play across the board needs to be stronger.”
Miramontez’s absence was not an excuse the Huskers were wanting to use, though. “You lose great players all the time, it just means that whatever you’re doing at that point in time isn’t enough,” Buelt said. The level of communication and the level of competition needed to rise and early on it didn’t. Buelt said head coach John Walker told his team after the game Illinois simply played better.
“I think if we play them again, I think we win the game,” Buelt said. “I think we have more talent and more artillery, just didn’t work hard enough today.”
The Huskers broke through in the 63rd minute after forward Elyse Huber drew a foul from about 35 yards out. Ochoa delivered a curling ball into the box, senior forward Faith Carter got her head on it and redirected it into the back of the net.
Nebraska kept the attacking pressure up for most of the final 45 minutes but never equalized. The offense has produced just three goals in the month of October this season in four games.
“I think recently we’re pretty blunt about it, our attacking just hasn’t been good enough lately,” Ochoa said. “It’s just winning your individual one v. ones. We need to be more consistent on our crosses, we had a lot of ones that went behind the goal or right to the goalie, which isn’t helping.
“We definitely came out stronger in the second half but we can’t wait like that. They can just control the second half when they’re up like that, we need to come out on top of them in the first half.”
Nebraska still has one more shot at it, a positive to take away from the day. While the rest of the Big Ten wrapped play on Sunday, Nebraska will have a home make-up game against Michigan State (5-9-3, 0-8-2 Big Ten) on Wednesday at noon CT to close out the season.
Win or draw, Nebraska will be in the Big Ten Tournament field when it begins on Oct. 28. A result Wednesday determines seeding. A loss knocks the Huskers out of the top eight.
“It’s nice to know that our season isn’t over yet and we kind of hold the outcome in our hands,” Ochoa said. “We still have control over the situation, which is good.”
They also have a shot at redoing Senior Day. Buelt left the pitch with a few tears Sunday and the Huskers are hoping to send the senior class off in a little better fashion against the Spartans. If they can clean of the communication and come out with a little more competitive fire Wednesday, Ochoa says, they’ll have a good shot at doing just that.
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.