Archives August 2021

Nebraska Soccer Preview: Huskers Batter Dakotas in Warm-Up Matches

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The Nebraska Women’s Soccer team played host to the University of South Dakota Coyotes and North Dakota State University Bison.  The Huskers made the games tough for the two Summit League sides from the Dakotas.  The Nebraska attack kept two shutouts while scoring 5 goals against USD on Wednesday (8/11) and 8 goals against NDSU on Friday (8/13). Nebraska fans were able to get an early look at the young attack that features highly-rated prep goalscorers Sarah Weber, Haley Peterson, Allison Napora, and Abbey Schwarz.  Coach John Walker handed debuts to most, if not all, of the new players in these two games and the Huskers fans also got to see the depth of the roster in this exhibition. As was true with the Omaha-Iowa State exhibition, the exhibition format is usually not good for game breakdowns and analysis, so below are some observations that we saw from the NDSU exhibition. Firepower Up Front Eleanor Dale, the sophomore forward from England, was a force early last Spring for the Huskers before being sidelined by injury.  Dale can score goals in multiple ways, which she showcased on Friday vs the NDSU Bison.  She scored an incredible header goal from a corner kick to open the scoring for the Huskers, and she followed that up in the second period with a great piece of skill followed by a cool finish.  If Dale can score consistently, the Huskers will be in good shape. The Husker attack as a whole is both youthful and talented.  Reagan Raabe returns after a promising freshman year Spring season.  She will probably see time in both the midfield and the forward line.  Abbey Schwarz, Haley Peterson, Allison Napora, and Sarah Weber all look to be promising additions to the forward line.  The coaching staff won’t be lacking options up top, that is a guarantee. Senior Leadership While most of the attack is on the younger side of things, the core and spine of the team behind them has some considerable experience.  Seniors Dakota Chan and Theresa Pujado patrolled the midfield area against North Dakota State, while Seniors Ashley Zugay and Grace Brown slotted into their spots in the center of the backline. One player that was missing against NDSU who will be vital to the Husker success this year was Kenzie Coons.  Coons, who is still recovering from an ankle injury sustained this summer playing in the UWS league, is an important piece of the Husker midfield.  If she is in the game it may allow the Huskers to move Raabe forward into a more dangerous and attacking role. Set Piece Practice The Huskers got a lot of set piece practice on Friday against NDSU.  The Huskers won 10 corner kicks, scoring off 2, and had several other dangerous free kick opportunities.  The Huskers are definitely not the tallest team in the Big Ten, but they have some quality set piece sets and some dangerous targets that should help them score goals this season. Goal production from set pieces for the Huskers is going to be important.  The Huskers finished last in the Big 10 in goals scored this past Spring, and they finished second to last in 2019.  While they have added some dynamic attacking pieces, they are going to need to execute from dead ball situations to help increase their goal totals and tip tight games more in their favor.  Set piece success can turn close losses into draws and draws into wins. Stoneburner Returns To Action Katie Stoneburner made her Husker debut this Fall in these two exhibition matches, coming off the bench both times.  What Stoneburner’s role will be exactly is still uncertain (for me, I am sure the coaches and Katie know her role going forward).  She is a midfielder, but we have heard rumblings that there could be a move to the backline in the cards for her.  Gwen Lane has made the switch from forward to outside back, and so far that has proven to be successful for the player and the program.  I have no doubt that this potential move could pay off in a similar way for Stoneburner and the program. The bigger reason that Stoneburner’s return is noteworthy is because she is returning from a COVID-related heart condition she battled last year.  Katie is a good storyteller, and her YouTube channel is a great place to start if you are interested in an inside look on the Husker program and the players. Unanswered Questions A couple unanswered questions as the Huskers head into the beginning of their season.  At the time of writing this, they have not kicked off against Western Illinois yet. First, who is going to be the Husker number one goalkeeper?  Junior Makinzie Short was the starter and primary goalkeeper last Spring, but the Huskers have added Sophomore Arizona transfer Sami Hauk to the fold.  Short and Hauk split time fairly equally in the exhibition games, and I am not sure how Coach Walker and the coaching staff handle goalkeeper competitions, if there is one.  We aren’t at every training session either, where a lot of goalkeeper competitions are decided as well.  Both goalkeepers have the ability to do well for the Huskers. Second, how will the Huskers fare as their competition gets tougher?  The Huskers open up with their third Summit League opponent in Western Illinois.  After that, their schedule gets significantly tougher in a hurry.  The Big 10 is no picnic as a soccer conference either.  It’s all well and good to watch Sarah Weber ghost past three defenders and the goalkeeper to put the ball in an empty net (that was the goal of the game for the Huskers against NDSU), but can she do that on cool Fall Sunday in Minneapolis, Minnesota?  Abbey Schwarz and Allison Napora terrorized the wings of USD and NDSU, but can they do that to Iowa?  Haley Peterson put some NDSU defenders on skates, but how will she handle Wisconsin defenders?  The answer to those questions are unknown, but I am looking forward to finding out. Third, will the Huskers truly finish 12th in the Big 10?  The Huskers have had a tough run the last few seasons, and what has made it tougher has been that the Huskers have been competitive in most of their games.  This isn’t a team that is getting regularly blown out by conference or non-conference opponents.  The Huskers losing games by multiple goals is not a regular occurrence.  Could the Huskers finish 12th?  Yes.  Could they finish 6th?  Also, yes.  The margins are fairly thin game-to-game in the Big 10, and if a team can get on a run of results, even over 2 weekends, that can shift the season. Final Thoughts The exhibition game against NDSU was fun.  There was a great crowd, the atmosphere was great, and the Huskers put on an attacking show for the fans.  Hibner is a fantastic venue for the sport.  I think the Huskers enter this season with a determination to improve on past years, and it will be interesting to watch them have a go at a difficult schedule.


Mavericks Fall To Cyclones In Season Opening Exhibition

The Omaha Maverick Women’s Soccer team hosted the Iowa State Cyclones in a very early season exhibition.  The two teams played three, 30-minute periods, and fans were able to see most of the 2021 Maverick roster.  While the rain held off, the Mavericks were unable to hold off the Cyclones conceding a corner kick goal in the third period.

 Head Coach Tim Walters was able to hand debuts to four freshmen (Cece Behrens, Sena Ahovissi, Reagan Bourgeois, and Kayla Futakami) and three transfers (Mo Gohr, Meg Nemnich, and Rachel Thigpen).  Despite all of the new faces, Maverick fans would have noticed almost no changes from the starting line-up from Spring 2021 to opening day of Fall 2021.  The Mavericks are a team of youthful experience, but they are led by Senior Centerback Margaret LaVigne and Senior Forward Andrea Daves.

Exhibitions typically aren’t great for true game breakdowns, so below are some general thoughts about the Mavericks’ season from the game today.  Important not to read too much into the game as both teams have been into their season for less than a week.

New Players Show Well

I was impressed by the early showings of the new Mavericks.  Former Skutt Skyhawk standout Behrens made appearances in both the midfield and the defense, though I thought she was better in the former.  Even as a freshman, Behrens looks the part on the field.  Ahovissi, who was an integral part of Millard North’s successful 2021 season, showed well at outside back, showing good pace and defensive ability.  Bourgeouis and Futakami are the two freshmen I am least familiar with, but their performances today bode well for the future both this season and beyond.  As the freshmen continue to grow more comfortable with the team and the level of play, I expect them to come out of their shell and grow in their aggressiveness and speed of play

Gohr, a Kansas State transfer who trained with the Mavs this Spring, started up top for the Mavericks and should help generate more goal-scoring chances.  Nemnich, a Memphis transfer, will provide good competition and support in the midfield.  Finally, Rachel Thigpen, who had an outstanding career at NAIA Midland University, will provide some extra competition and mentorship for the other goalkeepers on the roster.  In the brief moments from Saturday’s scrimmage, it is of my opinion that Thigpen could have been a NCAA Division I goalkeeper her entire career, but she probably wouldn’t trade the success and experience she had at Midland for that.

Playing Out Of The Back

While it is early days for the Fall 2021 season, the Maverick backline showed signs of some of the things I saw them struggle with last season at times.  Composure on the ball, decision making, and execution when playing the ball out of the back caused some breakdowns last Spring, and we saw some of that again on Saturday.  There was some experimentation in the backline which certainly can lead to mistakes, and if you take Margaret Lavigne out of the equation the backline is quite young still.  I have no doubt that this will be an area of great growth, as the players the Mavericks have in the back are both talented enough and experienced enough to improve.  I expect that by the time conference season rolls around, some of those issues will be drastically improved or completely resolved.

Promising Midfield

Put aside the usual early season match sharpness critiques, and the Omaha midfield is looking very promising.  I think fans are going to enjoy watching both the starters and the depth that comes off the bench this season.  The coaching staff may have some selection headaches (in a good way) later this season and in the future, depending on how all of the players develop.  Regan Zimmers is an incredibly hard worker and covers an amazing amount of ground.  Grace Ostergaard is a tough but skilled player with already a ton of experience (over 1,500 minutes in the Spring).  Emilie Erland, Behrens, Meg Nemnich, Gracie Parsons, and Bourgeouis all bring something different to the table and give Coach Walters plenty of options this season.

Set Pieces

One thing I thought the Mavericks did really during the Spring 2021 season was both their attacking and defending of set pieces.  This was an area of struggle for them on Saturday, as Iowa State generated their best chances and eventually their goal off of set pieces.  The Mavericks did not generate much from their own corner kicks, but again, this is something I expect them to turn around.

I paid special attention to Behrens when she was in the mix for corner kicks.  Behrens was an incredible set piece target in her prep career and I expect that to continue into her college career.  She didn’t get on the end of a set piece on Saturday, but she escaped her marker every single time the Mavs had a set piece and she was on the field.


The Press

One thing I thought the Mavs did really well for early in the season was how they pressed and defended as a team at times.  When Iowa State had the ball in their backline, the Maverick forwards, midfielders, and outside backs did a great job of pressing and defending together causing Iowa State to play long or turn the ball over.  The Mavericks were a tough team to break down last season, and I expect that to continue this Fall.  This is something that is a very positive early season sign for the Mavericks, and leads into my next point.


Creating Chances

I think it is sometimes the most frustrating thing about early season exhibitions.  The attackers haven’t quite found their rhythm or connection yet.  That alone can be frustrating, and it is even more difficult when coming up against a challenging, Power 5 opponent.  The Mavericks return both Sophia Green (Summit League Newcomer of the Year) and Daves (UNO Division I career leader in assists) and also welcome Gohr to the attacking fold.  I think the Mavericks will fare better in the attack than they did on Saturday, but it may take a few games for the players and coaches to find the right combinations and the sharpness.


Final Thoughts

For a first week exhibition match against a Big XII opponent, I think the Mavericks played well.  It’s less than a month until Nebraska Soccer Talk plans on being in attendance for the UN derby, when the Mavericks travel down the road to take on the Cornhuskers.  I for one am really excited to see the growth between now and then.


The Mavericks play their entire conference season in the month of March this year, starting with Denver on October 1st and ending with South Dakota on Halloween.  My prediction and expectations for the Mavericks is another top 4 finish in the Summit League, and a trip to the 2021 Summit League Tournament.