Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It was Brittany Pfeil’s first Big 12 start in goal. Nebraska, which had struggled in Big 12 play during 2007, was looking to build on the momentum of a five-game unbeaten streak. The conference opener, in late September, was against No. 25 Kansas.
Fueled by the desire to avenge a loss to the Jayhawks in '07, the Huskers pushed the game into overtime.
In the extra period, Kansas' Kortney Clifton had a breakaway. She dribbled to her left and fired a low shot. Pfeil dove to her right and stopped it. Clifton collected the rebound and passed to Emily Cressy, who rifled a shot high. Pfeil leaped to deflect it. The rebound rolled to Pfeil’s left, where she was able to collect it and end the scoring threat.
It was just an eight-second snapshot in a five-year career for Pfeil. When the Huskers scored the winning goal in the second overtime, it gave them a 2-0 Big 12 record, their best conference start in two seasons.
“It was just adrenaline,” Pfeil said of the sequence against Kansas. “I honed in on the ball and kept it away from the net. Looking back on it on film, I saw I ran through two Kansas players to get to the ball.”
Nebraska goalkeeper coach Wally Crittenden also commented on the intensity of that overtime sequence and attributed the win to Pfeil’s effort.
“I haven’t heard a crowd as loud in my two years at Nebraska as when she made those two saves,” Crittenden said.
Pfeil, a native of Norfolk, Neb., attended Nebraska's goalkeeper camps for five years. She received interest from Division II schools but she quickly accepted the offer to join the Cornhuskers as a walk on.
“I have always followed Nebraska soccer since I was little,” Pfeil said. “My senior year, I got the call and was asked to walk-on and I accepted. I wouldn’t have wanted anything else.”
Pfeil made her decision understanding that playing time might be limited. Jamie Klages, a member of the United States Under-21 National Team, was brought in the same freshman class as Pfeil in 2005.
“I knew coming in here that playing time probably wasn’t going to be a big factor, but that didn’t stop me from working hard every day,” Pfeil said. “I loved playing soccer and playing for Nebraska every day. That was my driving force throughout; just making myself better and making the team better. I just wanted to see the program succeed.”
In her first two years in the program, Pfeil played in two games. She allowed a goal on the only shot she faced.
After the 2006 season, a departure and an arrival changed Pfeil's playing status. Klages left the team, leaving Pfeil as the only goalkeeper on the roster for the 2007 spring season. And Crittenden arrived to become Nebraska's goalkeeper coach.
“I didn’t have a chance at playing until Wally came and helped me bring out my skills,” Pfeil said. “Wally broke all my technique down. I was his project for the whole spring season.”
Crittenden found the potential in Pfeil to become one of the best keepers in the conference.
“From the first session I had with her, her energy, charisma and commitment to learning were impressive,” Crittenden said. “She’s very open-minded and willing to put on hold what she had been taught before and give what we were teaching her a shot. I’ve worked with quality goalkeepers, and Brittany is the most coachable that I’ve ever worked with.”
While her skills were improving, Pfeil's career faced another challenge. The team added freshman goalkeeper Jessica Mills to the roster. The two battled during pre-season practices in 2007 and Mills earned the starting job.
“I knew nothing was guaranteed,” Pfeil said. “Mills is quite a hard worker. She is so talented, so I was a little heartbroken when I didn’t get the starting nod at first, but it was for reasons I understood. She was going to give our team the best chance to win.”
Pfeil played in five games in 2007 and stopped three of five shots on goal, maintaining her original focus of helping better the program.
“She epitomizes what a Nebraska walk-on is about,” Crittenden said. “She wanted to do this for the right reasons, to do this the best she can with what she’s been given.”
Entering 2008, Pfeil's final season appeared destined for more watching than playing. Pfeil dedicated herself in the off-season to weight training to build her explosiveness, agility and confidence. Mills, though, was still the choice to start the season as the goalkeeper.
However, after three losses to open the season, the coaching staff turned to Pfeil against St. Louis.
“That was such a high, just being out there and getting my first start,” Pfeil said. “It felt so unreal. Everything that I ever dreamed of was coming true.”
In the next game, Pfeil stopped all five shots she faced in a 3-0 shutout of UAB that sparked an eight-match unbeaten streak.
“She’s still learning and adjusting,” Crittenden said. “What you see on the weekend is what she’s done in the four days prior. She trains every day the way she wants to play. In most cases, she’s faced with harder situations in training than she faces in a game.”
Pfeil enters this week’s Big 12 matches with an 8-4-1 record and an 0.89 goals-against average. Nebraska, which finished 5-10-4 overall last season, has posted an 8-7-1 overall record and a 4-3 mark in Big 12 play.
Even with the strides she has made, Pfeil looks to continue to raise her game and her team’s performance.
“If I can make big plays in the back, maybe I can encourage or inspire our players up front to give all they have themselves, the little extra we need to beat these top teams,” Pfeil said.