Grace Brown File Photo

Grace Brown (27) attacks the ball against Purdue defender during the game at Barbara Hibner Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In need of leadership due to the uncertainty of a soccer season thanks to COVID-19, senior defender Grace Brown has come into her own and pulled together her Husker soccer teammates.

“Her leadership has been crucial throughout the summer with all of the uncertainty surrounding the season and what will happen with the team,” Nebraska soccer head coach John Walker said. “Her growth as a leader in pulling the girls together during a time where we need someone to keep everyone focused no matter what happens next has been outstanding.”

Last season, Brown played in all 18 matches and made six starts as Nebraska’s center back. She had one assist in Nebraska’s 1-1 draw with Rutgers in October 2019, and played in a season-high 90 minutes in the Huskers’ 2019 season finale against Penn State. 

Even though she was a significant part of the dressing room last season, Brown developed her leadership capabilities over the offseason and through the summer. This was appreciated by the team.

“I feel like I have really worked hard on communication with all of my teammates along with Coach Walker and kind of being that communication channel between the team and the coaches,” Brown said. “We have an atmosphere of managing ourselves as a team and I feel like our chemistry was not what it should have been last year so I have worked hard to step up and be a part of the change this season.”

Brown has not only stepped up as a leader for the young Husker outfit, a team that features only two seniors and lost its captain Sinclaire Miramontez to the NWSL, but she has also made large strides in her game on the pitch. 

For example, Walker said she expanded her range of passes as a central defender and  communicates much better with other teammates. This helps the rest of her teammates tremendously when starting attacks from the back or when on the counter attack.

“She has greatly improved the range of her passing game and that opens up so much in terms of starting attacks, with the expanded range of her passing she has more opportunities to start attacks in different areas and lanes,” Walker said. “Her communication from the center of defense has also improved greatly. Having a central defender who communicates well and keeps her teammates organized is huge for a team.”

Brown has also made becoming a tougher defender a big focus for her development, something she said she worked on throughout the summer and early into this school year. This includes not only an attitude change, but also a change in the way that she plays and in how she defends in one of the most important positions in soccer: the center of defense.

“I feel like as a central defender it is so important to be gritty and tough and really control the penalty area and the final third as a defender and not allow any easy looks at goal,” Brown said. “I want to be able to not only win the ball but to be able to control it and be able to start an attack right away and start moving the ball upfield right away.”

Right now things remain unclear about a season for the Huskers, but Brown has made it clear that she intends to return for a fifth year if Nebraska’s campaign is either postponed or canceled. When the Big Ten announced the return of football on Sept. 16, the conference said that decisions on start dates for other fall sports, like women’s soccer, would “be announced shortly.”

That has yet to happen, and at the time of this feature, the Big Ten has only announced a start date for the men’s hockey season. At this point, a fall soccer season looks unlikely and a spring season is in the balance.

“Things have been so weird with everything going on with COVID-19 and not really knowing what is going to happen in terms of having a season this year,” said Brown. “But no matter what happens whether it is this year or if I have to return for a fifth year, I intend to play again for Nebraska and go out on a high note.”