Fourth-seeded Nebraska ousts Minnesota

Mark Heller

LINCOLN, Neb., — In the past three years, the Minnesota soccer team played Nebraska twice, losing 3-1 in 1997 and 3-2 in quadruple overtime on a miserable day in November ’96.
The Gophers’ play against Penn State — a team similar to Nebraska — and their ability to play with the Cornhuskers in the past had the Gophers thinking an upset would be a reasonable request.
By halftime it was 2-0 Nebraska.
Nebraska finished with 28 shots, Minnesota had 12.
Nebraska 5, Minnesota 0.
“I thought there were three keys that happened in the game,” Cornhuskers coach John Walker said. “First, our three defenders were able to handle their three forwards, which allowed us to take some chances up front. Second, Meghan (Anderson) and Amy (Walsh) were dangerous. Third, our goalie came up with a big save early and made sure we weren’t down a goal.
“In the second half we were able to wear down Minnesota with our depth.”
Senior midfielder Jaime O’Gara had a point-blank shot in front of Nebraska’s goalkeeper, Karina LeBlanc, 15 minutes into the game. But the junior who allowed all of 12 goals this season, slid head-on into O’Gara’s shot and blocked it with her body.
For the remaining 75 minutes, a Cornhuskers team stacked to the gills with all-Big 12 and future All-American players took over. It was the sixth time since the soccer program began that Minnesota gave up five goals, and the Gophers (13-9) now know firsthand why the Cornhuskers are 21-1-1 and entering the sweet 16.
Had O’Gara’s shot gone in, would it have made a difference?
“You’re never sure how things play out,” Walker said. “Soccer is a lot different than some other sports. To score a point in soccer you put the ball in the net, sometimes that can be very difficult as opposed to a sport like basketball where you shoot the ball so many times. You can play well and not finish, or you can play well and finish, and that’s a world of difference.”
But the shot didn’t go in, and after that Minnesota coach Sue Montagne could only watch as her defense was worn down by the onslaught of the ball and most of Nebraska in the Gophers’ zone. And the Minnesota offense had few chances to try and make something happen.
“Their defenders were some of the best we’ve gone against this season,” said senior forward Nicole Lee, who combined with O’Gara to account for half of the team’s 12 total shots. “We weren’t taking shots when we needed to.”
Back to Nebraska’s gaudy offensive statistics. The Cornhuskers it raised their scoring average from 4.59 after scoring their five goals.
Following LeBlanc’s save on O’Gara, the Cornhuskers got two goals and an assist from Anderson and a goal and two assists from senior All-American defender Sharolta Nonen. Nonen is the first defender in Big 12 history to be named the Big 12 Player of the Year.
Senior goalie Dana Larson ran, leaped, dove and slid all day, but some nifty moves by Lindsay Eddleman around and through the Gophers defense set up Becky Preston’s goal to make it 1-0 barely halfway through the first half.
A screened shot off a cornerkick by Anderson made it 2-0 before halftime. And Larson was working all the second half too.
“I was expecting a busy day.” Larson said.
Fittingly, it was her last. And Minnesota is left with a sour taste in its mouth after getting dumped on by the Cornhuskers.
Some of the Gophers might get another shot at Nebraska next season, but some, like Lee and Larson, won’t. And while the weather wasn’t as miserable as that ’96 game, the result sure was.
“I feel terrible for the senior class that have to go out with a 5-0 loss,” Montagne said. “The biggest lesson to be learned today is that you have to do what you have to do early in the season so that you are not getting into the NCAA tournament by the skin of your teeth, then you’re getting a top-four team. You’ve got to do the job during the season to put yourself in a better position when the tournament starts.
“We didn’t do that this year.”

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]