Sinclaire Miramontez against Oklahoma

Nebraska's Sinclaire Miramontez clears the ball at Barbara Hibner Field during the game against Oklahoma University on Friday, Sept. 13th, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

With non-conference play wrapping up last week and Big Ten play starting this weekend, it’s fair to say the Nebraska soccer team has yet to hit its stride.

The Huskers (1-4-2) were tasked with a difficult non-conference schedule, and to the casual observer it seems Nebraska failed those tests and is headed for a poor Big Ten campaign.

However, that is not the case. Despite the poor record, the team is improving, hopefully culminating in a successful Big Ten season. After a disappointing 4-0 season-opening loss on Aug. 22 against Kansas, Nebraska has been competitive in its remaining non-conference tilts — with high points being a tie against then-No. 21 Baylor and a come-from-behind victory on the road against Long Beach State.

Despite improved play the results aren’t there yet — and if that is to change Nebraska needs to start putting the ball in the back of the net. The Husker defense, anchored by senior Sinclaire Miramontez (also Nebraska’s leading scorer with two goals) and sophomore Olivia Brown, has been good enough to keep them in games. However, their offense has failed them.

Nebraska has managed to score just four goals through seven games — which is tied for 294th in the country. However, Nebraska has shot the ball 87 times this season, with only 37 shots on goal. Scoring an average of 0.57 times a game won’t cut it in the Big Ten, meaning that Nebraska’s attacking play needs to drastically improve.

Look for senior forward Savanah Uveges to lead the Husker attack. Uveges, who missed games against USC and Oklahoma due to injury, returned to the pitch on Sept. 15 against Gonzaga and scored her first goal of the season. Uveges, along with seniors Meg Brandt and Brenna Ochoa, will look to take their play to another level to guide the Husker offense to success.

Nebraska has two great chances to turn the narrative of its season around this weekend, with the first being a matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers on Friday, Sept. 20 in the conference opener for both teams. After not qualifying for the conference tournament in 2018, the Boilermakers (4-2-1) have started off strong this season.

Part of this turnaround has to do with the fact that Purdue graduated just two seniors from last year’s squad, meaning it returns experienced players. Despite Purdue’s experience, the Boilermakers have two freshmen who made significant contributions this year. The first is defender Sydney Sparks, who anchors a defense that has conceded five times this season.

Sparks has played 644 minutes this season, the second-highest mark on the team. In addition to being a lockdown defender, Sparks also scored a free kick from midfield earlier this season in a 1-0 victory over DePaul. The second is forward Leanna Rebimbas, who has scored two goals and assisted twice in the center striker role for Purdue’s offense. Nebraska will also need to shut down junior Hannah Melchiorre, who leads Purdue with three goals this season.

The Huskers stay in the Hoosier state to face Indiana on Sunday, Sept. 22. The Hoosiers enter the weekend on a three-game winning streak, but play the undefeated No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes on Sept. 20 before taking on Nebraska. 

Indiana’s attack is led by a pair of Preseason Big Ten Honors List members in freshman midfielder Avery Lockwood and senior forward Chandra Davidson. Lockwood, who has recorded either a goal or an assist in three straight games, is a dynamic playmaker who was ranked as a four-star recruit by Top Drawer. Davidson, Indiana’s captain, has scored three goals on the season and the Hoosiers have scored 10 goals total through seven non-conference matches.

Junior goalkeeper Bethany Kopel anchors Indiana between the sticks, saving 16 shots and recording three shutouts so far this season. Kopel and the Hoosier defense enter the weekend playing confident soccer, allowing two goals in Indiana’s past four games.

Friday’s match against Purdue starts at 6 p.m. and Sunday’s match against Indiana starts at 12 p.m. Both matches will be streaming on BTN+. Next weekend the Huskers return home to face Northwestern on Thursday, Sept. 26 and Illinois on Sunday, Sept. 29.