KU Soccer: Bitter End

Lawrence – There is one underlying truth about soccer: It can be a very unforgiving sport.

The Kansas soccer found that out in painful fashion Sunday afternoon at the Jayhawk Soccer Complex in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas (18-5) dominated the game in all facets as it outhustled and outworked the ‘Huskers (14-8) for most of 99 minutes, 19 seconds of soccer. The most glaring statistical difference was KU's 27-8 edge in total shots (10-3 for shots-on-goal) — a whopping 19-shot advantage.

Still, the scoreboard didn't lie: Nebraska 2, Kansas 1.

"We dominated the game and we still didn't win," a somber KU coach Mark Francis said.

There was no denying that. KU held a 9-6 shots advantage in the first half and a 17-1 edge in the second, but time after time the Jayhawks pulled shots inches wide or chipped them a bit too high. They missed so many gimmies that they easily could have had a comfortable 4-1 lead rather than been playing catch-up all afternoon. Also bear in mind Nebraska played without starters Brittany Timko, Tanya Dennis and Sari Raber, who were missing to play for the Canadian national team in the under-19 world championships in Thailand.

The loss was eerily similar to KU's lone other home defeat of the season, a 1-0 loss to Nebraska on Sept. 24 when the Jayhawks dominated the contest and out-shot the ‘Huskers, 16-7, but missed a half-dozen shots from point-blank range.

NU midfielder Brooke Bredenberg put the ‘Huskers on top, 1-0, at the 27:03 mark when she fired a free kick over the KU defense that bent toward the near post. KU goalkeeper Meghan Miller dove and got her fingertips on it but wasn't able to push the ball wide.

At that point the Jayhawks began playing with a greater sense of urgency and they put more pressure on the Nebraska goal. Sophomore defender Holly Gault pushed up from the back and ripped three shots. Caroline Smith and Jessica Smith also engaged in a flurry of shots in front of the NU net, but never put one away. Jessica Kilpatrick also fired a shot that required Nebraska keeper Katie Wright to make a diving save.

The Jayhawks turned up their intensity in the second half and the ball rarely entered KU's half of the field. Caroline Smith fired five shots in the half, including one in the final seconds of regulation that skipped inches wide of the near posts. KU's lone score came at the 67:52 mark when Jessica Smith buried a shot from point-blank range off a great feed from senior Rachel Gilfillan, tying the game at 1-all.

At that point, with momentum fully in Kansas' favor and Nebraska looking deflated and worn out, the Jayhawks seemed poised to put the game away.

"The were done, they were tired, they were on their heels a little bit," Francis said of Nebraska. "We were all over them and we did everything except score."

KU opened overtime quickly as senior midfielder Lauren Williams slipped a perfect pass to Caroline Smith, but her shot clipped off a NU defender. Moments later Nebraska's Nikki Baker ended the game when her blast from 30 yards out clipped the crossbar and deflected into the net, ending KU's season.

"Give her $100 and she could never do it again," Miller said of Baker's perfect blast, which Francis described as "an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime shot."

The loss did more than keep KU from earning its second straight Sweet 16 berth. It also ended the careers of KU's seven seniors — Miller, Williams, Gilfillan, Monica Brothers, Gabby Quiggle, Amy Geha and Stacy Leeper. They end their Kansas careers as the most successful senior class in KU history, boasting three NCAA Tournament appearances, a Big 12 Championship, four consecutive winning seasons and a 60-25-3 career record.

Still, despite the glitzy record, their careers, and KU's season, are over.

"We weren't supposed to win this game. If we were we would've made our shots," said Miller, who logged two saves in the contest. "I can't even count on my hands how many times we had a flurry in front of the goal of eight-, nine shots bouncing off everything except the back of the net. If we were meant to win this game we would've."

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