By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
If their first test against a Division I opponent is any indication, the UNO women’s soccer team will do just fine. After a week of practice, the Mavs hooked up in an Aug. 13 exhibition with Missouri Valley Conference champion Creighton at Morrison Stadium across town.
The Lady Jays scored first 7:21 into the match when a 35-foot shot by Andrea Zuniga beat UNO goalkeeper Katelyn Tschida for a 1-0 Creighton lead. The Mavs however, would not back down.
After getting to halftime with just the one goal deficit, UNO controlled play in the second half and had their efforts rewarded on a corner kick. Senior Maggie Olson sent a header to the back of the Jays’ net and tied the score at 1-1.
The Mavs would finish the match with eight shots, three on net and a result that’s sure to do wonders for a team in its first year of Division I competition. Creighton, which went 15-4-2 last year, returns its top four scorers from a season ago.
Though UNO will be without a regular conference schedule and without a chance at postseason play for a few years, it hasn’t tempered the expectations of head coach Dan Klosterman. Speaking before the season, Klosterman said he and his team still have much they’d like to get done this year.
“We expect, our players expect, every single game we’re gonna go out with the same attitude we’ve had in the past, let’s go win some games guys,” Klosterman said. “Let’s go play hard, let’s go prove we can play a Division I schedule, play teams and compete at that level.”
Klosterman and the Mavs will have several opportunities to prove their mettle against Division I opponents. The season schedule consists of 10 games against Division I opponents, including the exhibition match against Creighton.
Unfortunately, all of those opportunities will come on the road. The Mavs have matchups with future Summit League opponents: South Dakota, North Dakota St., UMKC and Western Illinois.
UNO will play four of those five opponents as part of an eight game road trip that begins on September 8 and ends on October 20. Maverick fans will only have three opportunities to see the team at home.
Klosterman and the Mavs face Central Oklahoma and Midwestern State in early September and former MIAA opponent Washburn on October 22.
“I’m not necessarily setting a goal that we should win “x” number of games, I think for us this season let’s see where we’re at…let’s try to figure out this whole thing,” Klosterman said. “Let’s see what this Division I thing is all about.”
“To say we need to win so many games, that’s kind of a difficult thing at this point. Now next season, when we’re actually in the conference that’s a different story…we can still compete for the conference championship, regular season.”
The new season will certainly offer some new challenges, but the Mavs won’t be going into competition empty handed. UNO returns second team All-MIAA selection Hilary Jackson and eight other players who saw action in at least 17 games last season.
All in all, the returning players account for over 75 percent of last season’s scoring. Though 14 of the team’s 22 players are underclassmen, six of the eight sophomores played in at least 16 games.
Gone is second team All-MIAA goalkeeper Lauren Fox. But with new goalie Tschida having seen over 173 minutes in six games last season, UNO should have a player ready to grow into her role as the starting keeper.
“I think they’re excited about playing new people, playing in Division I, being a Division I athlete,” Klosterman said. “I think they also have a little bit of pride in themselves of we can pave the way for other people…for the future athletics here at UNO.”
New to the mix are five freshmen, three out of Nebraska, one from Iowa and one from Texas. UNO signed two goalkeepers, two midfielders, a defender and a forward.
With the move to Division I, the Mavs may have the opportunity to expand their recruiting base throughout the region. Having won a national championship just six years ago, UNO is a name well known in women’s soccer, regardless of the level of competition.
“I still think in some ways we’re looked upon locally as maybe that Division II program down the road,” Klosterman said. “But out of state and around the area farther out it’s been a whole lot more receptive to the fact that…you guys got a great university and you guys are a Division I program now.”
“I think eventually the Omaha, Lincoln will kind of figure out too kind of where we’re at and what we’re doing here. I think it’s been more difficult for them just because we’re kind of in that shadow still of Creighton and Nebraska. That will change.”