Soccer meets fourth-seed Nebraska in second round

by Mark Heller

Every reward has a risk.
Minnesota hosted a first-round NCAA game Wednesday night against Eastern Michigan and won 2-0.
The downside? The Gophers (13-8) play fourth-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln on Sunday.
If having to play Nebraska in Lincoln isn’t tough enough — the Cornhuskers are 54-4-1 at the Abbot Sports Complex — climate control has been anything but controlled in past meetings.
“I remember the weather the most,” senior goalie Dana Larson said of a ’96 meeting. “My freshman year it rained I don’t know how much, and then the temperature dropped. We got soaked and then froze, and then we had to take cold showers after the game.”
After a 3-2 quadruple-overtime loss at Lincoln in the first round of the 1996 NCAAs, and a 3-1 loss in Lincoln in ’97, Minnesota would like to give Nebraska the freeze this time, but they might have a few snowballs to dodge.
How good were the Cornhuskers (20-1-1) this season in the Big 12?
They won the conference tournament by outscoring the opposition 19-3, and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA, plus home-field advantage throughout the tournament and a first-round bye.
They averaged 4.59 goals per game, second in the nation only to Santa Clara’s 4.8. The Gophers scored four goals — a season-high of four goals no less — twice this season.
“We weren’t aware of that,” Larson said. “We know they’re a good team. “We’re going to play Erin (Holland) and Juli (Montgomery) more defensive. They’re fast and so we need to play smart.”
Oddly enough, Nebraska is led by a midfielder; Meghan Anderson led the Big 12 with 48 points.
The accolades don’t stop there.
Nebraska has two senior All-Americans on defense in Isabelle Morneau and Sharolta Nonen. On the rare occasions when opponents get to the net, it doesn’t go in. Junior goaltender Karina LeBlanc allowed 13 goals all season, 0.56 per game, good for fifth in the country.
All told, the Cornhuskers returned four All-Americans this season.
Scoring 4.59 goals per game and giving up 0.56 isn’t going to help Minnesota, but the Gophers are hoping that playing Nebraska close the past two times will make the third time a charm.
“We can’t take chances on defense,” Larson said. “We can’t play pretty and have defenders running up the middle like Eastern Michigan. Our defenders are going to have to strictly play defense.”

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