The Nebraska women’s soccer team is doing the unexpected this season.
After posting a 7-12-1 record last season, the Huskers were voted by league coaches to finish ninth in the Big Ten Conference preseason poll.
That subpar prediction and a sense of urgency by a senior-laden squad motivated the Huskers throughout the season, and with one game remaining in the regular season Nebraska (14-3-1, 9-1 Big Ten) has already doubled last year’s win total and is in position to win the Big Ten regular season title.
“I think the biggest difference between this year and last year is how we’re approaching training,” senior forward Jordan Jackson said. “We finished on the lower end of the Big Ten standing last year and I think that gave us a little motivation.”
“It motivated us a lot that everyone thought we were the underdog,” freshman forward Jaycie Johnson said. “We just wanted to get out there and prove everyone wrong. We are a team that everyone should watch out for and can compete with all the high level teams.”
The Huskers are riding a five-game winning streak into Friday’s final regular season match against Indiana. They have won 12 of their last 13 matches and risen to No. 18 in the latest NSCAA Division I Top 25.
Jackson is one of seven seniors for a program that has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament since 2005 or claimed a regular season conference championship since 2000.
“We have a strong senior presence on the team,” Jackson said. “This is our last chance to give it all we have and accomplish our goals.”
“The seniors on the team have helped out so much with communication and being leaders on and off the field,” Johnson said. “They don’t ever let us get down on ourselves and keep us motivated to keep going.”
A key reason for the Huskers’ success is their defensive prowess. Nebraska has allowed only 19 goals in 18 matches this season, despite being outshot in the last 10 games. The Huskers have posted six shutouts on the year – their most since 2005.
“We’re so tough,” Jackson said. “We’re a tough team to beat and I think our record speaks to that. Our team motto is the best offense is a good defense and it really speaks true to us because our defense keeps us in games and wins games for us. We’re such a strong team defensively that it translates into our offensive game.”
And, offensively, Nebraska has scored in 15 consecutive matches. The Huskers have been outshot in Big Ten matches this season, but own a 64-40 lead in shots on goal as they have capitalized on limited chances.
“The Big Ten is a very possession-oriented conference and the Big 12 was a more high-pressure, intense game,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve improved in that area. Our finishing has also been better. Last year, we were on the wrong end of a lot of close games. I think that speaks to taking the ball on offense and being able to finish when we need to.”
Nebraska started the season with a 2-2-1 record, including an 0-2-1 road trip to BYU, Utah State and Arkansas, but has rolled since, falling only to Michigan on October 6. And, last week, the Huskers knocked off No. 16 Penn State in double overtime assuring the Nittany Lions’ streak of 15 consecutive Big Ten regular season championship titles would end. It was Nebraska’s first-ever win against Penn State.
“It’s exciting to beat a team that has been so dominant,” Jackson said. “Knowing their history in the Big Ten – and last year they were in the NCAA final – it’s a great win for our confidence and team morale and gives us a boost going into this last weekend.”
With a victory against Indiana on Friday, the Huskers can realize their goal of earning the conference crown.
“After every practice, we get together and say, ‘Big Ten Champs!’” Johnson said. “That has been our motivation the whole season. We have one game left to accomplish that goal.”
“I think it’s a really big deal where other coaches rated our team during the preseason,” Jackson said. “Now, to be one win away from the championship means a lot.”
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering Division I women's soccer. She can be reached at email@example.com