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Sinclaire Miramontez's role on a soccer pitch is simple in context: disrupt the opposing attack.

The senior takes a lot of pride in her defense. She's considered one of the top defenders in the country.

Scoring chances for players like Miramontez are minimal. So imagine the excitement when Miramontez was wide open in a clear-out situation during an exhibition match against Omaha earlier this month.

The Mavericks tried to clear the ball from the net, and the ball found the right foot of Miramontez, who delivered a 35-yard dart to the back of the net. The Nebraska senior from Lenexa, Kansas, raced to the sideline to celebrate with her teammates.

"When I saw it go in, I couldn't believe it," Miramontez said. "You don't get a whole lot of first games like that and I wanted to celebrate with my team."

For Miramontez, the goal also served another purpose. A notice, actually. Soccer life was normal again.

The All-Big Ten performer went down with a torn ACL in a game against Wisconsin on Oct. 18 of last season, and the Huskers were without their best defender for the final four games of the season. It was the first major injury for Miramontez.

"That initial reaction of knowing, 'All right, I've got six months of sitting out, nine months of sitting out,' it's hard," said Miramontez, who played every minute her sophomore season and nearly every minute her freshman season. "It's mentally challenging to know that you have to push yourself every day. But I didn't allow myself to sit there and feel sorry for myself when I went down."

Instead, Miramontez found other ways to help the team. Freshman defender Olivia Brown was thrown into the fire, and Miramontez helped guide her. Once the season was complete, Miramontez focused on rehab and rediscovered her love for the game.

"When you have something taken away from you, it kind of shows you your life is so much different when you don't have that outlet anymore," she said. "It definitely did put in perspective for me that this sport can be taken away from you at any moment, so you want to play with everything you have, every second that you're given of it."

Miramontez grew up in a soccer family. Her oldest sister Sierra played at Kansas, and Sydney played at Nebraska. The younger sister wanted to be like her sisters and follow a similar path.

"I always looked up to them and I always wanted to be like them," she said.

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The injury, however, was a new obstacle for the family.

"She's done this all on her own," said her sister Sydney, who plays for Utah Royals FC of the NWSL. "Neither my older sister or I have gone through that, so that was something that I really admired from her. She didn't have a lot to go off from us from that and she created her own way in dealing with (the injury}."

Miramontez said returning from a significant knee injury was a little nerve-wracking. But she refuses to play scared.

Helping her return to form was the team's summer trip to Scotland. The Huskers got 10 practices prior to the trip and 10 more sessions in Scotland. That meant time with coaches that Miramontez would not have gotten in prior summers. She was able to fine-tune the fundamentals prior to fall camp.

Now Miramontez can focus on what she does best: stopping the foe's best scorer from reaching the deep end of the field. It stems from the "Blackskirt" mentality, Miramontez says.

"It's a pride thing and we take so much pride in being the dominators on the field," she added. "We want to go into the tackle knowing that we're going to win it."

Miramontez's formation into one of the Big Ten's top defenders started with a conversion with NU coach John Walker when Miramontez attended a Husker camp following the eighth grade. She grew up playing center-middle, but Walker told her she'd make a great center-back. He was right.

"That's when I kind of realized I really did like the defensive aspect of it," Miramontez said. "I like to see everything in front of me and know that I can make an impact on one side of the ball and help our team transition to the other side."

With Miramontez back, the Huskers aim to improve on last year's fifth-place finish in the Big Ten. They'll start the regular season at Kansas on Thursday evening.

For Miramontez, who has aspirations to play professionally, it will mark the start to her final season with the Huskers.

"Something that I really admire her for, she's always the most positive person in the room," Sydney said. "From the day that the injury happened, she was ready to go, she was motivated to get through the surgery, get through the rehab. I know she did have some hard days, but she was incredibly positive.

"I take a lot of pride in knowing that's my sister."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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