Friday, 3:00 PM – (2) Nebraska vs Southeastern Louisiana
Gulf in class might be the kind description for this one, as Southeastern Louisiana faces very steep odds heading north to Lincoln to kick off the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon. The Lady Lions broke Stephen F. Austin’s stranglehold on the conference on penalties in the conference tournament final, but the Southland’s representatives will be hard pressed to do likewise against Big Ten double winners Nebraska. Blake Hornbuckle has his best side since the fifteen win club of 2010 but it’s arguable as to whether his Lady Lions are even in great form coming into the NCAA Tournament given the club’s one win in its last five games. That includes the semi-finals and final of the Southland Conference Tournament, when the club came up trumps in a shootout thanks to the heroics of Canadian rookie Hope Sabadash in goal. Sabadash looks to be continuing a tradition of fine goalkeeping here, netting the Southland’s Freshman of the Year award, and any hopes of an upset likely rest on her coming up huge. Junior defender Chelsea Villaescusa was one of the Southland’s top defenders, but it remains to be seen how she and her backline mates deal with a dynamic Nebraska attack. SELA was not exactly the most prolific side in the league, with the team’s likely best overall player, midfielder Kelsey Salcido, only a marginal threat in front of goal in the league. Canadian Brianna Singh led the club with five goals in Southland play, which might be the most accurate barometer of the club’s potential offensive output considering the paltry non-conference slate the club had this year. That itself might be the biggest factor holding back the Lady Lions on Friday. They haven’t played anyone near as talented as Nebraska this season. The lack of nous on the biggest stage means Hornbuckle’s side is likely to fall at the first hurdle decisively.
Shock Big Ten double winners Nebraska have set the bar high with their league success this season. Most probably felt that the Huskers were bound to slip up sooner or later, considering this was a club that had lost to Arkansas and drew with Utah State in the regular season. It never happened though, as the Huskers were the model of consistency in the league, winning ten of eleven to lift the league title in assured fashion. They’d take care of business in the conference tournament as well, though it has to be said, they also benefitted from upsets of title rivals Michigan and Penn State, having to beat neither to win the tournament. It’s a minor quibble, and the Huskers will look at an unlikely march towards Cary, an unheard of proposition at the beginning of the season. The dynamic Jordan Jackson is the heartbeat of the club’s attack, turning into a great distributor as well as a confident finisher. Jackson’s helped her NWSL Draft stock as much as anyone this season and is the key to keeping the offense running smoothly. The powerful duo of rookie stud Jaycie Johnson and the hulking Mayme Conroy combined for twenty-three goals this season, with Johnson in particular in scorching form in the Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska’s had plenty of teams that could score in the past decade though, and it’s the defense which has tightened up considerably. The Huskers gave up less than a goal a game in the league, but conceding multiple goals to the likes of Utah State and Arkansas earlier in the year show this group isn’t bulletproof. Things have tightened up considerably lately, with the club conceding multiple goals just once during their current winning streak. They’ve kept just one clean sheet in five despite the presence of Mexican National Team defender Ari Romero and much improved goalkeeper Emma Stevens at their disposal. It’s food for thought. Just not in this round though, where John Walker’s side should ease to victory.
Prediction: Nebraska 4 – 0 Southeastern Louisiana
Southeastern Louisiana Tournament Prediction: First Round
Nebraska Tournament Prediction: Second Round