Nebraska soccer advanced to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Sunday, taking down UC Irvine by a score of 4-0.
The Huskers went up early and charged to a 3-0 halftime advantage. Scoring slowed from there, but Nebraska sealed the victory with defense and added one more score in the final minutes to cap it off. Here are three takeaways from the match.
Huskers Dominate Anteaters
Nebraska’s team succeeds through its aggressiveness, and that was on display early.
The Huskers kept possession and put up the first three shots of the game, though none were on target. That changed with the fourth, which came in the 14th minute.
Nebraska took advantage of a UC Irvine mistake, as Gwen Lane forced a ball back toward the box and a defender allowed it to pass under her legs. Abbey Schwarz was right behind, beating out another Anteater at the top of the box and sending the ball into the lower right corner of the goal.
“They were super fired up,” UC Irvine head coach Scott Juniper said. “The energy that they brought in the first 20-30 minutes was really difficult to deal with.”
Schwarz struck again 15 minutes later to help extend the advantage. This time, she placed a cross perfectly between defenders to Eleanor Dale, who finished it perfectly.
Nebraska’s passing wasn’t particularly crisp in the second-round matchup with Tennessee, but that didn’t repeat Sunday. The third goal came in the 41st minute off a corner kick. Lauryn Anglim sent it to Haley Peterson at the back post for a header to create a comfortable lead.
All the while, the Husker defense was solid in both halves. Sami Hauk made seven saves, and the defense came through on the one time the keeper was caught out of position. Head coach John Walker said postgame that he was pleased with how his team cleaned things up on that end.
Eleanor Dale Breaks Single-Season Record
Dale’s first score was her 27th goal of the season, tying her with Kim Engesser’s 1998 mark for the program’s single-season record.
She had plenty of opportunities for more throughout the game. The near-miss that got the most attention was when she was in position to receive a cross, and lifted a leg high looking to meet it. She connected, but it sailed just over the crossbar.
As time winded down, it looked like Dale would go into the next round tied for the record. Then, with less than five minutes to go, an Anteater tackled Sarah Weber just outside the box. Referees blew the whistle, setting up the free kick. The keeper stood no chance, freezing as Dale’s shot went right by her.
“It’s obviously something we practice,” Dale said. “I work hard on my free kicks and not many of them come off, but I have to keep working on it. We just said keep it simple, being that close to the goal.”
Regardless of whether she broke the record this year, Dale’s season has been historic for the program, and she’s been the force behind this breakout season. The historical achievement to match it is a bonus.
“It’s amazing to do something and I wanted to come here and make a difference. And I’m glad that I’ve been able to help this team do so well this season,” Dale said. “… It’s really not my achievement. It’s the whole team’s achievement.”
Nebraska Taking Advantage of Opportunities
The Huskers hosted the games this weekend thanks to a historic string of improbabilities.
There’s only been one other time a one seed lost in the first round, and that year didn’t see a four seed losing in the same section of the bracket. Nebraska couldn’t control much that happened to put it in a favorable situation, but what it could do — and did — was take advantage.
“A lot of things had to work out in our favor and we’re super excited that all that happened,” junior midfielder Haley Peterson said the day before the second round. “Because there are so many pieces that had to fall into place, but we’re really lucky to have this opportunity and we’re not going to take it for granted.”
The team indeed did not take it for granted, now advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999, when the tournament field was just 48 teams. Nebraska being one of eight teams remaining stands as a massive accomplishment for the program.
Taking the next step will be even more difficult, as two-seed Stanford will host the Huskers next weekend after taking down Mississippi State.The Cardinal are undefeated with four ties and have allowed just nine goals in their 22 games. That’s the best goals-against average in the nation. Nebraska has lost to Penn State and Saint Louis, which both rank top 10 in that stat.