Nebraska soccer won its opening game in the NCAA Tournament, taking down South Dakota State by a score of 5-2.
Five of the match’s seven goals came in the first half. The Jackrabbits led 1-0 and 2-1 early before the Huskers took a 3-2 lead going into the break. A couple more second-half scores secured the win. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Nebraska Comes Out on Top in Chaos
Husker head coach John Walker wasn’t too pleased with the first half from his team, in which the Huskers gave up two goals in the first 25 minutes.
He felt that the team perhaps had too much adrenaline, given the setting of an NCAA Tournament game with a large crowd in attendance.
“We’re always exciting, that’s for sure,” he said. “A bit too much.”
Walker said the team didn’t really settle into the contest until the half. That might not be preferred for the coach, but Nebraska still went into the break up 3-2 after a hectic half. That’s always going to be a positive thing.
The Jackrabbits came to play at Hibner Stadium, taking advantage of some errors from the Husker defense and goalkeeper Sami Hauk. On South Dakota State’s first goal less than two minutes in, Hauk went to the ground quickly in front of Avery Murdzek, turning an already good opportunity into a better one for the visitors. The second score came on a breakdown as well off a free kick.
But Nebraska kept in the match thanks to its usual aggressiveness. Sadie Waite took away a soft pass from an opponent to tie the game back up at 1-1 early, and was responsible for the second equalizer as well, set up by a corner kick.
“Sadie definitely stepped up tonight,” Sarah Weber said. “Not only just the goals but the work that she put in the midfield, like the pressure, the tackling, that was a game-changer for us and we totally needed that.”
Weber Waite’s brace with an equally impressive one of her own. She gave the Huskers the lead heading into the half, then created some breathing room in the 48th minute. That second goal was the start of what would be a cleaner second half for Nebraska, as Eleanor Dale scored the final goal of the match on a header set up by Abbey Schwarz.
In the next round, Nebraska is going to want to clean things up defensively. That being said, the team played some of its best offense Friday night, and that level of finishing was certainly encouraging.
Great Home Crowd
Earlier this season, Nebraska brought in the second-largest crowd in Hibner Stadium history with 1,771 in attendance for a match against Wisconsin.
The Huskers beat that mark Friday, as the attendance figure was 2,044 for the opening game of the tournament. Grandstand seats were sold out, and the environment matched the crowd size. A good portion of the attendees were South Dakota State fans too, not only due to the university being within four hours of Lincoln but because five players on the Jackrabbits’ roster are from Nebraska. Opposing voices made themselves heard — mostly in the first half — making for an even more enjoyable scene.
The top Hibner attendance mark might be hard to reach, as the stadium saw over 2,700 file in for a 2015 match against North Carolina. However, it’s still cool to see large numbers of people out in support of what has been a great season for this Nebraska team.
More home games aren’t exactly impossible, either.
Nebraska’s Side of the Bracket Opens Up
The biggest result of the tournament’s opening day came in Nebraska’s region.
One-seed UCLA lost to UC Irvine 1-0, despite holding a large advantage in shots and the Anteaters being down a player at the time they scored. It was a shocking upset, and one that has significant implications.
The Bruins would have hosted the second- and third-round games had they taken care of business. Now, the highest remaining seed in that section of the bracket will do so instead next weekend. Nebraska is a five seed, only lower than four-seed Xavier. The Musketeers play their first-round game tomorrow, and if they fall to Tennessee, the Huskers will face the Volunteers at Hibner.
Regardless of the next host site, this appears to improve Nebraska’s chances of advancing further in the tournament. UC Irvine shouldn’t be disregarded for obvious reasons, but the rest of the bracket surely is happy seeing UCLA out of the picture. Still, the Huskers will first turn their focus to the winner on Saturday between Xavier and Tennessee.