Friday, August 18, 2017
Addisyn Merrick put her hands on her head in frustration.
The play wasn't necessarily her fault, but after a loose ball pinballed around the Kansas goal before Nebraska's Meg Brandt knocked it into the back of the net, the Jayhawks found themselves trailing less than seven minutes into their regular season opener.
That was the theme far too often on Friday, as the Jayhawks (0-1) fell 3-0 to the No. 22 Cornhuskers (1-0) at Rock Chalk Park.
"I think they punished us on the three opportunities they did have. I think they punished us," Kansas goalkeeper Maddie Dobyns said after the match. "I think that was definitely a lot better a game than last week. I think we came out to play, but they had three opportunities and they took advantage."
Early on, the growing pains of a young squad were in full display.
With three underclassmen starting on the back line and two more in the midfield, the Jayhawks struggled at times with their marking and positioning. That led to a host of chances from the road side, including the second goal with time winding down in the first half.
Nebraska midfielder Haley Hanson found space on the left side and played a perfect ball across the field and onto the head of Elyse Huber. Huber looped it up and over Dobyns from some five yards away, putting the Cornhuskers in front 2-0.
Sure enough, the Jayhawks had their chances.
Less than three minutes into the game, Nebraska goalkeeper Aubrei Corder tracked after a ball some 30 yards out of the box only to see Kansas forward Lois Heuchan regain possession.
Heuchan passed the ball off to Katie McClure who fired on an open goal. The ball deflected off the left post and out of harm's way.
"I think Katie probably would like to have that one back again," KU coach Mark Francis said.
There were several other opportunities to come. Freshman Ceri Holland — who Francis noted played well overall — lined a shot just over the goal in the 15th minute and missed again on a free kick with time winding down in the half. Heuchan also had a pair of near-misses in the period, the last of which led to her letting out a yell as she tracked back toward the midfield.
"I think the score didn't reflect the game we had," Holland said. "It's pretty tough, 3-0 at your home ground, it's a tough feeling to take."
But even though the opportunities weren't converted, Francis noted there was a silver lining. While he did say he didn't think his side performed well against Nebraska's pressure, he pointed out that there was one sign of progress from the exhibition opener.
In that match, a 1-0 loss to Iowa, Francis was critical of the team's effort in the first half. On Friday?
"I thought we were consistent about competing with them, and you have to do that with Nebraska, otherwise they'll run all over you," Francis said. "We've got some work to do. But it's a long season. I like our group. I like how we competed today."