Nebraska soccer was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, losing 3-1 to Wisconsin in the semifinals.
The Badgers struck first in the opening half, though the Huskers soon responded with an equalizer from Sarah Weber. The match remained tied until the second half, which Wisconsin dominated. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Wisconsin shuts down Eleanor Dale, Husker offense
Nebraska’s success this season has largely been fueled by its offense, which sits comfortably atop the conference in shots, shots on goal and goals. Eleanor Dale is the star of the attack, leading the nation in goals.
However, Wisconsin’s defense held the Huskers in check. Dale was limited to one shot on goal for the fourth time this year and first time since late September, and that attempt was blocked by the Badger keeper. Other than that, she didn’t have many real opportunities.
This extended to the team level as well. Nebraska averages over 19 shots per game, with nine of those typically being on target. Against the Wisconsin defense, it managed just 15 shots and four on goal. Many of the attempts that make up the former number weren’t quality shots.
The Badger defense appears to be playing at its best, having shut out three straight opponents coming into Thursday. Wisconsin’s 1-0 win over Penn State allowed the Huskers to claim a share of the conference’s regular season title. After that, it held Rutgers to just eight shots through regulation and two overtime periods in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
When Nebraska was able to break through in the first half, it was thanks to the connection between defender Jordan Zade and forward Sarah Weber. In the 27th minute, Zade sent a cross right to Weber, who was able to control it and score. Later, the Huskers nearly took the lead off another well-placed ball from the defender, but Weber’s header just missed that time.
Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins expressed at the break on BTN a desire to prevent those plays from Zade, and her team did so in the second half.
Nebraska defense also falters
While the Wisconsin defense may have been the biggest story of the match, it’s never going to be easy to win while conceding three goals.
The Badgers were held scoreless in two of their three losses this year and two of their three ties, scoring once in the other two results. They’ve won games mostly through defense, as outlined in the previous section.
Thursday, however, Wisconsin took an early lead on a ball from Maia Richters sent rolling all the way to the middle of the box. From there, Aryssa Mahrt finished with a shot into the upper right corner of the net.
Early in the second half, Mahrt created another opportunity, receiving a pass in the box and bringing defenders with her to the end line. She then passed it back to Emma Jaskaniec, who also was able to get past Sami Hauk for the go-ahead score.
Much of the second half went by with a one-goal differential on the scoreboard. When Nebraska wasn’t struggling to create opportunities, Wisconsin was controlling possession, further limiting chances for the opponent to equalize again. Finally, with less than 10 minutes remaining, Izzy Verdugo sent a ball to Richters, who had gotten past Nebraska’s back line to seal the win.
NCAA tournament next up
While the team surely wanted to advance further in the Big Ten bracket, this is not the end of the season for the Huskers.
Nebraska, which has been considered a top-20 team in recent weeks and entered the day ranked No. 19 in RPI, is a lock for the NCAA tournament. Not only that, they should be one of 32 teams to host in the first round.
Until the College Cup — the label for the semifinals and finals of the bracket — games are hosted at the campus of the higher seeded team. That means postseason soccer is set to be featured at Hibner Stadium next weekend.
The selection show is Monday, November 6, with first round games beginning November 10.