SOC: Husker seniors set the tone for the future of Nebraska program

Photo by Pat Radigan

The numbers of the nine Husker seniors were painted onto the field for Senior Night against Minnesota, but the memories they created will live on long after the paint is washed away.

Column by Pat Radigan

When you actually do the math, the whole fanfare of Senior Night gets in the way of focusing on the individuals being honored.

You’ve got to get the fans involved, so it usually happens before the game, which limits the amount of time you can spend on the ‘fun’ without interfering with game prep. When it’s time, they announce the family, the hometown and all those details, which leaves about 20 seconds to talk about each athlete.

That’s a pretty tall task. Summing up the life and accomplishments of a student athlete in just a few sentences. Especially when it comes to a group as diverse as the nine seniors honored Wednesday night by the Nebraska soccer team.

But it doesn’t mean I can’t try.

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A little more than three years ago, six freshman joined the Nebraska soccer team on the heels of the program’s first Big Ten Championship. They were joining a team that featured five players that would go on to play professionally, and came to Nebraska knowing a lot was about to change for the program.

Not only had Nebraska burst back onto the national stage performance wise, but the Huskers were a year out from opening a new multimillion dollar facility to get Nebraska out of the shadows of Memorial Stadium.

All the details proved to be up to the hype, too. Night games were coming to Lincoln under the lights at Hibner Stadium. The locker rooms, and sideline areas and even the cushioned season ticket holder seats looked like details from a professional soccer venue. There was even a playground and mini soccer field inside the stadium to make the 2,500 seat venue an experience for the entire family.

But facilities and things are only part of it. With all the change on the horizon, the pressure of defining the future of the #Nebz culture was going to be defined in a huge way by the class of 2017.

Right away they were joined by a goalkeeper from Brazil who had spent the year redshirting. A year later, another member joined their ranks when a native Nebraskan transferred in after a year in the SEC. The final piece of the puzzle showed up just last year, a graduate of Lincoln Southwest who was also coming home to be a part of this new era for the Big Red.

During this time of change for the Nebraska program, the numbers thinned out for a few years.

The first season at Hibner, it was two seniors who carried the mantle. Last year, four key components moved on as the last remnants of Nebraska’s Big Ten champs.

Which makes this year’s group of seniors the first to truly be a product of all the changes and success that have come Nebraska’s way since moving to the Big Ten.

So back to the task of trying to properly pay homage to the departing seniors.

Where to start. There are the six seniors who showed up together and the two transfers, but we’ll start with the one.

The only goalkeeper, and the only member of this class to actually take a redshirt year. In a state like Nebraska, any casual fan would assume a player from Brazil would be an All-Big Ten selection just out of principle. But that was never her purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s an extremely talented keeper, and was ready and available if called on, her role just never called for a regular season appearance. But if you watched how she prepared and maintained herself on and off the field, you’d never see the difference between the starter between the sticks and Nebraska’s reserve keeper from South America.

And don’t even get me started on her role as “Super Fan” for her friends on the basketball and tennis teams.

Rio Ferraz showed what it meant to be a team player, and made sure she had just as much fun simply being at Nebraska, as she did as a Husker that happened to play soccer.

Husker Amanda McClanahan worked her way into the NU rotation after transferring from Tennessee.

Now, about those transfers.

It’s one thing to come to a school knowing it means a bigger role. But it takes a special sort of person to walk into a program like Nebraska knowing you’re going to have to fight for every minute on the field. That’s exactly what the Huskers two imports had to do.

Each transferred home to Nebraska, and although they were in and out of the NU lineup, you’d never be able to tell by the effort and energy they added to this class.

Amanda McClanahan was the type of player whose energy caused random Twitter followers to demand her presence on the field, and kept her foot on the gas until the final second of her Husker career.

Alexis Rienks came to Nebraska as a savvy veteran, and made sure she matched her skill and composure on the ball with a sense of passion that could be felt the second she entered the game

That leaves the six who showed up in the fall of 2014.

I’m no expert on recruiting, but if you told me to try and put together a complete class, it’s hard to imagine a better balance than these six.

One of them showed skill, but was limited by injuries to just 13 appearances over four years. Yet even with the limited opportunity, it didn’t stop her from earning a place in the starting lineup with a jaw-dropping goal. It was her only career score, and went down as the game winner.

Emilee Cincotta had a handful of reasons to quit before she ever got started, but made the most of what she got and fought through it all to claim her moment

Two others were the type of role players that are required for championship teams. One had her career cut short after three years of contributions, while the other carried on an injection of heart and determination in her 11 appearances this year as a sub. In an era where moving on and seeking out stardom has come to mark college sports, these two showed what it meant to sacrifice self to be part of something greater.

Nikki Turney is the type of player whose value is hard to quantify, but who gave the Huskers a better chance to win simply by suiting up and being willing to play whatever part was needed

Amanda Hilton added composure and depth in an area that changed how the Huskers played the game, and showed what it meant to be ready at a moment’s notice

Then there’s the “big three.” They’d be the first to hate the term, and pass along the praise to their teammates. But it’s hard to see what they accomplished on the field and not point it out.

They brought a level of skill to the game that made even the simple things fun to watch. Diving headers, carefully targeted passes and through balls to create chances and a sense of determination and physicality that drove the engine of this team.

Husker Alli Peterson played a team-high 1,848 minutes this season.

They created goals, and kept opponents from even thinking about getting enough of the ball to score their own. One played in defense, one in the heart of the midfield, and another guiding Nebraska’s attack. A talented team with youth and ability, but driven by a spine of seniors.

It’s hard to find a way to quantify what crunching slide tackles, aggressive runs and audaciously creative ideas add to a team, but the three senior starters for this year’s Nebraska soccer squad set the tone with everything they did on the field.

Haley Hanson is an absolutely menace for defenses to try and tame, and has a competitive spirit and drive to succeed that is matched by her desire to be a good teammate. Be like Haley Hanson.

Alli Peterson is energy embodied with a side of skill, and is the type of player that would work herself so hard she’d be too nauseous to give a postgame interview—but she’d take time to apologize for leaving you hanging

Sami Reinhard is a baller. If we all loved anything as much as she loves soccer, this world would be a much better place, and that’s just the way she’d like it.

So if you had to describe your worth in 20 seconds, do you think you could settle on something?

It’s a tough task.

But the good news for the nine seniors who played their final home as Huskers this week is that it’s one they did not have to complete. They had four years of walking the walk to do all the talking they would ever need.

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