Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
We know 525,600 minutes makes a year, but how do you measure the impact of a four-year career?
In games won, in goals scored, appearances and morning practices where everyone’s still groggy? In the inch-perfect shots that clipped in off the crossbar, in the miles run by the seniors that played seemingly every minute of the year, in the laughter of diving header goals or in the strife of missing the postseason by 9 minutes of keeping a goal out?
When you have nine players honored on Senior Night, there are more opportunities to check off the boxes of possible career accomplishments. But what defines this senior class isn’t that one or two of them checked off a lot of them. That’s been the mindset since this group arrived on campus.
And it was the first think on the mind of Alli Peterson as she tried to compose herself and fight through the tears for one final postgame interview at Hibner Stadium.
“I think it’s been so clear this year that everyone plays such a crucial part of this program and this team,” she said. “Everyone is valued, everyone is important. We wouldn’t be here today if everyone wasn’t bought into the goal–if everyone didn’t give 100 percent in practice, didn’t support each other and believe in each other.”
So where have they taken the program?
It starts with the on-field accomplishments. During their time as active squad members, the senior class was part of 36 wins, made a trip to the Big Ten tournament and hosted/won an NCAA first round matchup at Hibner.
Beyond the numbers, there are the memories and moments of glory.
Peterson and Nikki Turney finish with one goal each in their Nebraska careers. Both were game winning goals from the defensive duo.
Alexis Rienks was the first of this year’s senior class to score her first career goal this season, when she redirected a header by Peterson into the net as part of NU’s 3-0 win at Kansas in the season opener. Emilee Cincotta notched her first career goal a week later, when she blasted a highlight reel goal in against South Dakota in just her 6th appearance as a Husker.
Sami Reinhard was the final senior to open her account in her final go around, and she made sure to make it count. Unlike Cincotta, Reinhard was making her 37th appearance in the heart of Nebraska’s midfield, but her possession-oriented role had kept Reinhard from finding her way onto the scoresheet.
But when Reinhard came wound up with the ball at her feet against Pittsburgh, and nothing but space in front of her, she brought the drought to an end with one powerful flick of her right foot.
Reinhard lined up a shot from well outside the box, and roped it with enough pace to get over the keeper before finding its way into the side netting for the goal. The goal felt so good, Reinhard added a similar screamer against Purdue to make sure this one found it’s way onto the Big Ten’s digital network.
And then there’s Haley Hanson.
Husker senior Haley Hanson fires a shot against Penn State in a 1-1 draw with the then-No. 7 Nittany Lions at Hibner Stadium.
Hanson was the lone senior to earn All-Big Ten honors, and with that reputation comes a number of moments and memories that will stick with Husker fans for years to come. You can pick any of the handful of diving headers, including a sprawling effort that clipped in off the post as the lone goal in an upset of No. 16 BYU.
And it was Hanson who came up with the aforementioned shot that grazed in off the crossbar, showing her knack for knowing exactly what she had to do to get the ball in the goal.
Much like Peterson, who was also a key contributor for all four seasons as a Husker, Hanson was always quick to deflect the attention from herself. When you’re the one who gets the final touch, you get asked to do interviews, and she’d walk us through the process and the play.
Every time, the explanation included the same thing: Credit to the teammate that set it up. And it wasn’t just empty praise. Hanson too was fighting through tears in her final postgame meeting with the media, and even though there was no goal to discuss, she stayed the course in how she reflected on her teammates.
“With this group, it was so easy,” Hanson said. “Everyone loves each other, everyone has such good relationships off the field, that it translates on the field. We’re all so willing to push each other.”
And then there’s the off the field stuff.
This year’s seniors were sophomores when Nebraska made the move to Hibner, and suddenly found themselves playing in front of thousands every game instead of hundreds.
Included in that were youth soccer players who would wait for autographs, Special Olympics athletes that the Husker players mentored and a growing section of student fans that often times included a percussion session. This class knew they had to set the tone for this new culture, Peterson said, and appreciating the steps the program took during their time is a huge part of it for her.
“We’re the only class (left) who has played both here and at the track, so we know how big of a difference Hibner has made, and it’s really become a home crowd,” she said. “There are fans here every game, and we know them by name. It means a lot.”
It wasn’t just about establishing the athletic culture, either. Every single member of the senior class was named to the Nebraska honor roll, and seven of the nine earned academic honors from the conference. They were regulars on the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team, and Peterson is a two-time winner of the Sam Foltz Hero Award.
“With this group, it was so easy. Everyone loves each other, everyone has such good relationships off the field, that it translates on the field.
We’re all so willing to push each other.”
– Haley Hanson
Husker Senior Midfielder
Check. Check. Check.
It’s hard to imagine a box that this class didn’t get to mark as complete.
Yet even with all the accolades, and the steps the program has taken in a variety of ways on and off the field, it was the last “box” that Peterson mentioned when asked about how this team has grown that stood out. On the heels of Hanson’s comments about team chemistry, Peterson interjected to add one final reflection to her thoughts on where the program was headed.
Nebraska scored three goals in 8 of 19 games, including five 3-0 wins. The Huskers were ranked in the top 15 during the regular season for the first time in 14 years. And even though the scoreboard didn’t always wind up the way the Huskers felt it should have, Peterson said the accomplishments of this year’s squad were no accident.
“I think we played great soccer this year,” she said. “I mean, yeah, we didn’t get a lot of results we wanted… but the level of soccer we were playing was where we wanted it to be.
“I know each girl is going to bring that into next year, and the years after that.”