The aura around the Husker soccer team has certainly changed after their first Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2018. That sentiment was only furthered by a 4-0 victory over Ohio State in the quarterfinals at Hibner Stadium in front of 1,519 fans.
The season didn’t start the way the Huskers had hoped for, though. Nebraska lost its regular season opener to San Diego State, 2-1, and began the season 2-3-1 including an ugly 5-1 loss to Saint Louis. The team knew something had to change following that game.
“It was just kind of a wakeup call,” sophomore midfielder Sarah Weber said. “We knew if we didn’t get on the same page here, this was what the rest of the season was going to look like.”
Weber, a First Team All-Big Ten member, led the team with ten goals on the season.
Nebraska turned the season around after the Saint Louis loss. The Huskers tied their next two games against NC State and USC, two teams that made the NCAA Tournament, and then beat Minnesota on a game-winning Weber goal on a header to open conference play.
The toughest test yet for the Huskers came next as they faced then-No. 9 Northwestern. Nebraska scored in the first minute of the game, flashing its offensive firepower. Although the Huskers ended up losing 4-2, it was their best performance to date.
Nebraska took that confidence to its next game. The Huskers beat a battle-tested Michigan team — one that reached the Elite Eight in 2021 — on the road 1-0. Following the win, Nebraska started to become a more fully-realized team. For nearly a whole month after, the Huskers didn’t lose a single game, notching three wins and two ties during that span.
One tie during that stretch came in the first of two meetings against then-No. 16 Ohio State. The game ended 2-2, the Huskers’ fifth and final tie of the season. Nebraska’s five ties came in large part thanks to the new overtime rule added in March of 2022 that removed overtime from regular season games.
Still, the Huskers came away happy with how they played against Ohio State. They were able to win the following game against Illinois, 3-1, but then the month-long run came crashing down against Iowa. The Huskers were humiliated 4-0, handing the Hawkeyes their first Big Ten win after starting 0-3-4 in their first seven conference games.
The loss to Iowa exemplified how up-and-down the 2022 season was for Nebraska. After losing to the Hawkeyes, the Huskers captured a massive 4-2 win over No. 24 Penn State, their first over a ranked opponent since 2018.
“Beating Penn State, they’re a national powerhouse,” said Nebraska head coach John Walker, who has coached at Nebraska for 28 years. “They've been the most dominant team in the conference. And to beat them real well 4-2, that was a real page-turning night.”
The Huskers experienced a letdown after the big win, though, falling to Wisconsin 4-1 in their regular season finale. Still, Nebraska’s 5-3-2 conference record was enough to make the Big Ten Tournament. Because they were a four seed, the Huskers hosted a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal match for the first time in school history.
In the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska played No. 25 Ohio State for the second time after tying the Buckeyes previously. In a packed Hibner Stadium, the Huskers gave fans a show, routing the Buckeyes 4-0. It was their best display of offensive firepower all season.
“The fact that we hosted Ohio State, which is a huge soccer team, and tied them early in the year, you could tell that we wanted it,” Weber said. “And we weren't going to let them take it away from us. So that's exactly what we did.”
Those wins over powerhouse programs gave the Huskers confidence in their own outfit and future direction. Nebraska failed to make the NCAA Tournament following a 2-1 loss to No. 6 Michigan State in the semifinals, but the Huskers return every player from this year's roster for 2023. Nebraska had only one senior on the roster, Marissa Popoola, who will be returning thanks to an extra year of eligibility afforded by COVID-19.
“I can't even wait for next year,” junior starting goalie Sami Hauk said. “With everyone coming back, I think that a year from now, we're going to be an even better team.”
The Huskers are also bringing in three new freshmen for next year. The three auditions include Nebraska natives Reese Borer and Kayma Carpenter, and Ella Rudney from Grand Island, New York.
Despite the season ending earlier than they wanted, the Huskers are primed to carry their momentum and continuity and be one of the Big Ten’s top teams in 2023.