Nebraska soccer on the verge of history
Nebraska is now on the verge of program history. Can the Huskers make the College Cup?
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Now on to soccer.
After nearly two turbulent years, Ella Guyott ran at the defense to become a threat. The redshirt freshman usually plays fullback. But when Husker star forward Eleanor Dale subbed out with a head injury, head coach John Walker subbed on the Papillion-La Vista graduate as a wing. Just get into the box, she told herself.
Nebraska’s Jordan Zade beat her defender and sent a dangerous cross into the Tennessee defense. The ball hovered over Florence Belzile at the near post. Tennessee defender Sheridan Michel’s header glanced the ball toward the back post and over goalkeeper Ally Zazzara’s attempted pounce.
“Like slow motion, it just came to me,” Guyott said. The redshirt freshman waited at the edge of the 6-yard box and calmly slotted the ball into the net with 61 seconds remaining in the second-round match last Friday to lift the Huskers to a 2-1 win. Not a bad first career goal.
Guyott’s journey to that goal was a long time coming. She stood out as a Monarch and at ECNL Midwest. She committed to Nebraska in December 2020, as a junior at Papillion-La Vista. She signed the following November. Then, in her senior high school season, she suffered what Walker described as a “bad” ACL injury. It required additional surgery and Guyott spent her first season in Lincoln intensely rehabbing. In her downtime she diversified her game, dribbling more with her non-injured leg. She returned for the 2023 spring exhibition season anew.
“Basically, (she) ended up being a two-footed player, improved herself technically so much,” Walker said after the Tennessee match. “To see her growth this fall has been incredible and so deserving.”
She seamlessly fit in the spring and has played in every match this season. Guyott even started the first 13 matches. She reliably logs half an hour off the bench, including 35 minutes in the dramatic second-round win. The Huskers needed some kind of heroics in the back-and-forth against Tennessee. They earned more chances, but the scrappy Vols hung around. Guyott put herself in the right position for a left-footed winner and ran to her teammates.
“Our team always talks about playing for each other and that goal wasn’t for myself, it was for everybody,” Guyott said. “It was to move on. It was to get better every day. It was to keep competing. So it was just for everybody on the team.”
The team advanced to play UC Irvine in the Sweet 16, where Dale returned. The Billingham, England, native left the Tennessee match following a scary collision. She jumped and headed a shot over the bar. But the Vols’ defender threw her head back and headed Dale in the lower forehead. Nebraska’s medical staff rushed to stop the bleeding. The NCAA’s top scorer eventually walked into the locker room for evaluation. After avoiding serious injury, she was back in the starting lineup against the Anteaters.
Sunday started with Dale tied with Texas’ Lexi Missimo for the nation’s most goals at 26. With some reinforced tape above her wounded brow, Dale was at the top of Nebraska’s 4-4-2 alongside Belzile. A gritty scrap to regain possession from Gwen Lane and Sadie Waite opened an opportunity for Abbey Schwarz to score the opening goal in the 14th minute. Nebraska’s consistent high press helped create more chances for Dale, who teased Hibner Stadium with acrobatic shots just wide of the frame. Then came one of the Huskers’ preferred wide runs. Schwarz charged at the UC Irvine defense and sent a long ball into the box. Dale connected with the inch-perfect pass to score her 27th of the season and double Nebraska’s lead. That 30th-minute strike ensured control of the game, Dale said afterwards.
Lincoln’s own Haley Peterson scored her first goal on a header late in the first half to seize a 3-0 goal lead. That score held despite more chances until the Huskers drew a foul 24 yards away from goal. Dale stood alone from the ball and started her approach on the free kick.
“We just said keep it simple, that close to the goal,” Dale said. “And, ultimately, I just wanted to take the shot on, and I had confidence in myself and it came off.”
Her right-footed rocket completely fooled the goalkeeper into the back of the net. She is now Nebraska’s single-season scoring leader, surpassing Kim Engesser’s 27 goals in the 1998 season. The former Big 12 Player of the Year posted on social media afterwards that it was time to relinquish her crown after 25 seasons.
“Keep scoring goals and get OUR program and OUR coach John Walker to the Final Four,” Engesser posted. “Keep Dancing!”
The dramatic second-round win and emphatic Sweet 16 shutout advances Nebraska (17-3-3) into the Elite 8 for the third time in program history and first since 1999. The Huskers will play No. 3 Stanford in Palo Alto on Friday at 4 p.m. This is the first clash between the two on The Farm since the Huskers won, 2-1, in 1999. The Cardinal (18-0-4) is undefeated this season with just four draws—attributed largely to the defense. Teams average just 0.409 goals per game against Stanford, the best defensive rate in the country. The Cardinal hasn’t allowed a goal in the last 383 minutes of play, dating back to a 1-1 draw with No. 2 UCLA a month ago.
Stanford has conceded just nine goals all season and allows 8.7 shots per game—40% of which go on target. For comparison, the Huskers have scored 66 goals and average 18.8 shots. Stanford’s defensive back line and work rate in the midfield is, frankly, astonishing. They close space and rarely lose 1-v-1 battles. They also recover fast to ensure little pressure gets to goalkeeper Ryan Campbell, who has been needed for just 51 saves this season with 10 shutouts.
On the flip side is Nebraska’s current form. Goalkeeper Sami Hauk is on a roll after pitching the program’s first NCAA Tournament shutout since 2016, 14th overall. Gwen Lane, Nikola Hauk, Lauryn Anglim and Jordan Zade are a cohesive back line. Zade and Lane find success getting up the flanks and adding more firepower in attack. Haley Peterson and Sadie Waite have both been excellent in the tournament, Sarah Weber and Abbey Schwarz are forces on the wings and there may not be a better tandem at the top in the country than Dale and Belzile. (The Montreal native is second in the country with 17 assists.) Then Guyott, Emma Prososki, Maggie Altman and Briley Hill reliably maintain momentum when they come on.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent with that all year,” Walker said. “But maybe, it’s my job to get some of the younger players playing time, but we have belief in them, for sure.”
Before the 2022 season, Nebraska was picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten but finished in the conference semifinals. Coaches tabbed them to finish sixth this year, but the Huskers again made the semifinals. Nebraska was the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament last year after finishing on the wrong side of the bubble. Jokes about being left out this season aside, Nebraska is now on the verge of program history. The Huskers have never made the College Cup.
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