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Buffs shut down high-scoring Huskers

September 26, 2009 | 12:18 am No comments
By George Tanner

BOULDER — After a couple of weeks of getting pushed around by the big dogs, it was nice to push back. The University of Colorado soccer team ended a losing streak against three national powerhouses with a 1-0 victory over Big 12 rival Nebraska on Friday at Prentup Field. Kassidy Fitzpatrick scored her third goal of the season, in the 68th minute after a scramble in front of the Cornhuskers’ goal.

Freshman Quinn Krier, starting her first game for injured Kate Russell, played a long ball in to Nikki Marshall inside Nebraska’s penalty area. Marshall headed the ball past goalkeeper Tara Macdonald, and the ball dropped for CU’s Amanda Foulk.

Defender Carly Peetz dumped Foulk to the turf, but the ball squirted free and found the left boot of Fitzpatrick, who approached the melee from the right side. She fired the ball into the netting with authority.

“Quinn Krier had a great ball in to our forward, Nikki, at the time, and Amanda also is in a great position,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re holding off the defenders, and luckily it bounced out. It was a good opportunity to spank it in there with the left. Even if it was a scramble, I’m really proud of how we positioned ourselves. It was a good mixup right there.

“You need to make those defenders think, “Oh, my gosh, where’s the ball?” They’ll lose sight of it, and that’s where you get that opportunity.”

The victory lifts the Buffs to 2-0 in conference and 5-5 overall, following a stretch of uneven results against powerhouse teams. In road losses against Florida, Stanford and Santa Clara in the past 13 days, CU allowed eight goals and scored only one.

Buffaloes coach Bill Hempen said he didn’t think returning home to face Nebraska would be the cure.

“If I had to pick a game to try to get out of a slump, this wouldn’t have been the one — because they were going to come at us maybe not with the same level of player, but certainly with the same level of intensity,” he said. “They knocked us around. And from my kids’ standpoint, we hung in there and started to push back a little bit, for the first time all year. And if you do that then you get the respect of your opponent.”

And perhaps the victory.

The Buffs turned the game around at halftime. Nebraska began the match with intensity, but CU turned the tide after 45 minutes of play and after some coaching moves by Hempen.

First, he moved up Kelly Butler to play forward with Marshall, and the pair of strikers forced the Huskers to behave on defense.

“When you had one up there, it was up to her. With two, I could get the second one in behind,” Hempen said. “It made them a little more honest in the back because they were getting forward a little bit, a little bit more than we would’ve liked.”

Second, Hempen challenged his players to be more decisive with the ball and to do so more quickly.

In the first half, the Huskers feasted on turnovers that they created with pressure from all across the pitch, forwards, midfielders, defenders. Fitzpatrick said that Hempen told his squad to make shorter passes and make them faster.

“Every time you take a touch you have to realize they’re getting closer to you,” Fitzpatrick said. “We needed to play quicker. Just listening to our coaches helped, because they told us they’re going to be tackling out there really hard. He was mostly concerned that we play shorter balls quicker. Don’t always look for the long ball. Just find the quickest pass possible because they’re right there all the time. You need to play quick. Find the open player. Don’t find a player who’s going to be pressured so close.”

And it worked. CU controlled play in the second half, setting up the goal with some enterprise from the offense and relieving the pressure in its own end. The frustrated Nebraska attack withered, and the challenges dwindled.

The Cornhuskers lost only their second game of the season, and it came in their Big 12 opener. Before Friday, Nebraska had outscored its opponents 36-9. CU goalkeeper Kara Linder made five saves as the Buffs held the Huskers scoreless for the first time this year.

It was Linder’s third shutout of the year and fifth victory.

SALTING AWAY THE VICTORY: The final minute was a barometer of how far the game had turned. Linder drained 15 seconds off the clock during a goal kick, one in which she stopped for a drink from her water bottle before addressing the ball. And a head’s-up play by Erin Bricker ate up most of the final 20 seconds. After a Nebraska defender played the ball back to Macdonald, Bricker rushed at her and blocked her kick. The ball went sailing back across the end line, but Macdonald had to track it down, place it at the six-yard box, back up and kick again. Bricker’s alert decision took away all the time Nebraska had to make one last run down the field.

MISSING: The victory was more impressive when considering that the Buffs played without field general Russell, who sprained her ankle last week against Stanford, and central defender Taryn Vitacca, who pulled a hamstring in practice on Tuesday. “Not having Kate, that’s a big deal,” Hempen said. Krier filled in for Russell on Friday.

WOMAN OF THE MATCH: Many candidates: There’s Fitzpatrick, who scored the winning goal. There’s Nebraska forward Molly Thomas, who missed wide a couple of times and hit the crossbar in the first half. There’s Linder, who just happens to be a Lincoln native. There’s Marshall, Kelly Ross and Amy Barczuk, who played center back in the absence of Vitacca. The CU defense was able to keep super-freshman Morgan Marlborough under wraps. Marlborough scored 232 goals in high school (that’s not a typo), and the 6-foot striker from Missouri leads Nebraska with 14 goals in nine games. Barczuk was able to keep her quiet with a combination of positioning, muscle and dominance in the air. Ross was there as the Nebraska forwards shifted and swirled. And Marshall played center back at the beginning of the game and at the end. I’ll go with the goal scorer. Let’s give this one to the goal scorer, Fitzpatrick.

UP NEXT: Colorado continues its Big 12 weekend when it faces Iowa State at 1 p.m. Sunday at home. As always, admission and parking are free at Prentup Field. CU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is teaming up with Coats For Colorado and will collect gently used and new coats on Sunday to donate to individuals and families in need in Colorado.

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