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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.