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Lincoln Southeast v. Lincoln Southwest 4.7.2012

Lincoln Southeast's Paige Nielsen always knew she wanted to play college soccer for North Carolina. The Tar Heels reciprocated the interest when Nielsen was a sophomore. (PATRICK BREEN / LJS file photo)

Paige Nielsen has been a dominating player on the local soccer scene for many years, and now she’ll take her game to college power North Carolina.

But before she goes, here's a look at her time in Lincoln, where she developed into an explosive scoring threat worthy of a roster spot in one of the nation's best women's soccer programs.

2003 — A THING FOR CAROLINA BLUE

Nielsen played all the sports — basketball, softball and volleyball — but from a young age, soccer was her favorite.

She always hoped to play for North Carolina.

“I watched them on TV — I loved the blue — and thought that was where I wanted to play,” she said.

2008 — A SPECIAL CLASS

As eighth-graders, Nielsen, Alissa Kohmetscher and Reilly Burns won a national 3-on-3 tournament in Orlando, Fla. Later, they’d all play together at Lincoln Southeast and, along with Hannah Wampler, each committed as juniors to play NCAA Division I soccer.

2009 — ON THE FIELD FROM THE START

Nielsen started the first match of the season as a freshman. She began as a midfielder, but also moved up and scored two goals with three assists.

“She had the whole package as a freshman,” Southeast coach Duane Johnson said. “She stepped right in — Alissa did, too — and the rest is history, I guess.”

Nielsen's record 38 goals
Opponent Result Goals
Grand Island W, 10-0 3
North Platte W, 6-2 3
Millard South W, 6-0 1
Lincoln High W, 10-0 2
Lincoln High W, 10-0 3
Lincoln North Star W, 10-0 3
Lincoln Southwest L, 1-0 0
Norfolk W, 4-1 3
Fremont W, 9-0 3
Lincoln East W, 1-0 OT 0
Lincoln Southwest W, 3-2 OT 2
Lincoln North Star W, 10-0 1
Lincoln Northeast W, 7-1 2
Columbus W, 4-0 3
Millard West W, 5-1 2
Omaha Benson W, 10-0 1
Papillion-LV South W, 4-1 3
North Platte W, 2-0 2
Millard North W, 2-1 1
Omaha Marian L, 1-0 0

It was during her freshman year that Nielsen got her first college offer from Nebraska.

2010 — THE DREAM OFFER COMES

Nielsen moved up front for the Knights as a sophomore, and scored 16 goals to help the Knights return to state.

During the summers, Nielsen attended soccer camp at North Carolina. It was following her sophomore year that she was asked to join the program.

“Coach pulled me into his office after a scrimmage, and told me some things he liked about me, and he said he’d love for me to play there,” Nielsen said. “He just told me to keep that in mind. I was like, ‘I don’t want this guy to wait too long; it’s one of the best programs in the country.’ I called him later and told him I wanted to play there.”

North Carolina has won three of the last six NCAA titles, and 20 of the 30 titles awarded since 1982.

Nielsen will start in the program as a recruited nonscholarship player, like several others in the incoming class of about 15 players. With a 4.4 grade-point average, she’s received academic scholarships.

She’d be only the second Nebraskan to play for North Carolina. The other was Omaha Westside graduate Rebecca Crabb, a senior last season who started as a team manager at North Carolina.

2011 — THE NORTH CAROLINA GIRL

When fans noticed Nielsen at a high school match, the conversation often included the line, ‘Yeah, and she’s going to play at North Carolina.’

As a junior, Nielsen scored 23 goals — and had an equally impressive 17 assists — in helping Southeast to its best season with a trip to the state championship match. Nielsen set up the Knights’ goal in a 2-1 overtime loss against Millard North. She was named Super-State honorary co-captain.

2012 — RECORD SETTER

Nielsen shattered the previous school records for most goals in a season (38) and career (79).

Goals by year
Year Goals Assists
2009 2 3
2010 16 4
2011 23 17
2012 38 11
Totals 79 35

Not only was Nielsen scoring more goals as a senior, Johnson said, she played better. She also had to fight off double-teams.

“You don’t see that in the scorebook or in the newspaper, but they knew all about her,” Johnson said. “She had the knack for getting in front of the goal. She just needs a little seam, and with power in both legs, it’s really kind of tough to stop.”

The best match of her career, Nielsen says, was a 2-1 win over Millard North in the 2012 state semifinals. That avenged a loss to Millard North in the state final the previous year.After going down injured in the opening minute of that match, Nielsen returned and scored the tying goal. “We acted like it was a championship game,” she said. “Our whole team played well together.”

Fall 2012 — ANOTHER CHANCE FOR HARDWARE

Nielsen will head to Chapel Hill in late July, and has been told she’ll have a chance to compete for playing time this fall.She earned four state runner-up medals in high school — two in basketball and two in soccer — and now will be part of a program where winning a national title is a real possibility.

— Brent C. Wagner

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