OMAHA — It was soon after last season ended, when the Millard North girls soccer team won the state championship, that coach James Abueg got the news that meant that winning another state championship this year was going to be more difficult.
A club soccer team in Omaha, Sporting Omaha FC, was going to elevate its club and become a development academy. By doing so, the rules from U.S. soccer are that those players are not allowed to play high school soccer, and that meant the Millard North team was going to take a big hit.
Five of the players who could have played for Millard North this season are playing for one of the Sporting Omaha DA teams instead. They included two all-state players from last season, midfielder Regan Zimmers and goalkeeper Sidney Anderson.
The Millard North students are among about 40 girls who could be playing high school soccer this spring in Nebraska but are playing for Sporting Omaha FC instead. Southwest also lost two players to the DA.
There are still plenty of good players at Millard North, including all-state forward Kelly Elwood, who led the team in goals last year. The Class A fourth-ranked Mustangs beat No. 5 Lincoln Southwest 1-0 on Thursday to improve their record to 2-0.
The Millard North coach started to hear about the changes Sporting Omaha FC was going to make last season.
“I knew there was rumblings of it throughout the season, but we didn’t address it,” Abueg said. “I think it was at the end of the year banquet when we kind of heard that they were thinking about doing this, then it was during the summer when they told us that they were going to do that. As a coach, you’re trying to scramble around and make sure you have everybody around that is going to be around.”
The news that some players weren’t going to play this year didn’t take away from what the Mustangs had done in winning state, but Abueg said it changes your perspective. That was the seventh state title for the program, and the first for Abueg.
Abueg is hopeful that a time will return when more players coming up from middle school can’t wait to play for their high school.
Abueg told the players on the team now that they had to move forward.
“We’re going to lean on younger girls this year to help us out,” Abueg said. “We can’t dwell on the past and play the what-if game. We just got to move forward and build the culture with who we have and the ones that want to be here and be part of the Mustang family.”
Elwood scored the game winner on Thursday on a long free kick in the 20th minute of the match.
“She was dialed in during warmups and she told me she was feeling good. After she hit that shot I believed her,” Abueg said.
Junior Gracie Schweers was the winning goalie, and is making a big jump up from the junior varsity team after Millard North lost its top two goalies from last season.
Abueg says the Mustangs can still be a good team.
“We’re still trying to figure out how we can play together as a team and build that chemistry,” he said. “Southwest disrupted us really well with what they did.”
Southwest (1-1) put a lot of pressure on the Millard North goal late in the first half, but couldn’t break through.
“Millard North has been in the state championship match three straight years, and our team is right there,” Southwest coach Thomas Nettleton said.
This was just the third time that Southwest has played outside this season due to the snow and wet fields, with two games and one short practice.