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.
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.
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.
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.