|Alma Mater:||Queen's University|
Coach John Walker came to Lincoln in April 1994 and 25 seasons later, he has built a tradition-rich program at Nebraska that includes 12 NCAA Tournament appearances. Under Walker, the Huskers have made eight NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, including two trips to the Elite Eight.
As a member of the Big 12 Conference, Walker and the Huskers captured three regular-season conference crowns (1996, 1999, 2000) and five Big 12 Tournament titles (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002) in 15 seasons. Nebraska transitioned to the Big Ten in 2011 and two years later, won both the regular-season and conference tournament championships.
Walker has guided the Huskers to a 327-158-44 record in 25 years as the only head coach in program history. He surpassed the 300-win milestone in 2016 when NU knocked off then-No. 16 BYU on the road, ending the nation’s longest home winning streak. Walker’s 200th career win came in the 2005 NCAA Tournament against Creighton. Walker is the only head coach to produce more than 100 wins in fewer than eight seasons.
With a proven system, an innovative coaching philosophy, a well-respected program and an ability to recruit some of the nation’s most talented players, Walker has the Huskers focused on contending for conference and national championships on an annual basis. The Huskers have implemented a year-round approach to training and conditioning that includes a strong schedule every fall and spring.
Additionally, Nebraska has traveled abroad for international competition, including trips to Europe in 2006 and 2011. In 2015, the Huskers ventured to Canada to play in international exhibitions, while supporting three former Huskers in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Building from the Beginning
In 1994, Nebraska became the first Big Eight school to add women’s soccer as a varsity sport, and Walker was optimistic about the future of soccer in the Cornhusker state because of the University’s commitment to building a winning program.
Although Nebraska was ahead of other Big Eight schools, Walker started the 1994 season behind the rest of the nation in recruiting because of his late hiring. However, in his first season as the Huskers’ mentor, Walker managed to put together a collection of scholarship players and walk-ons who recorded a surprising 14-4-0 mark and earned credibility around the nation with a successful inaugural campaign.
Walker and his staff followed their initial on-field success by compiling an excellent incoming class that included transfers Kari Uppinghouse, who became Nebraska’s first first-team All-American in 1996, and third-team All-America goalkeeper Rebecca Hornbacher.
Walker’s goal when he started at NU was to have the Huskers in their first NCAA Tournament by the 1998 season. Walker not only achieved that goal, he shattered his own timeline as NU reached the postseason in 1996 and placed themselves among the nation’s elite by winning two tournament games and advancing to the Elite Eight.
Along the way, Walker established himself as one of the finest coaches in America, earning United Soccer Coaches National Coach-of-the-Year, Central Region Coach-of-the-Year and Big 12 Conference Coach-of-the-Year recognition in 1996.
Walker led the Huskers to a perfect regular season with a 19-0 record and the first regular-season Big 12 title. Nebraska extended its winning streak to 21 games with two more wins at the Big 12 Tournament. The Huskers entered the NCAA Tournament with the nation’s longest winning streak as the only unbeaten and untied team in the country.
In the opening round, Nebraska topped Minnesota by a 3-2 margin in overtime to set up a rematch with Duke. The Huskers had come from behind to defeat the then-No. 6 Blue Devils, 3-1, in Durham, N.C., on Sept. 8, for Nebraska’s first-ever win over a ranked opponent. Although Duke came to Lincoln with a rich soccer tradition and plenty of NCAA Tournament experience, the Huskers dominated the Blue Devils from start to finish in a 3-0 win.
With the victory, the Huskers earned a trip to Oregon for the Elite Eight to challenge perennial power Portland. Although the Huskers battled until the end, they fell to the Pilots, 1-0. The Huskers finished the 1996 season with a 23-1-0 record and a final No. 6 national ranking. In addition to Uppinghouse and Hornbacher, NU’s Lindsay Eddleman also garnered All-America recognition in 1996.
After Breaking Through
Nebraska earned seven consecutive top-15 national finishes from 1996 to 2002, and qualified for 10 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1996 to 2005.
In 1997, NU made the NCAA Sweet 16 and finished the season ranked No. 7 nationally with an 18-4-0 record. Sharolta Nonen earned her first of three All-America awards in 1997.
The following season, Nebraska overcame the loss of five senior starters, including All-Americans Uppinghouse and Hornbacher, to finish with a 17-4-1 record and claim a second Big 12 Tournament title. The Huskers advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and finished with a No. 10 national ranking. Kim Engesser was named Big 12 Player of the Year and earned All-America recognition, along with Nonen and Isabelle Morneau.
In 1999, Nebraska enjoyed its best season in the program’s 25-year history, running to a 22-1-2 final record, a Big 12 regular-season title and a Big 12 Tournament crown. The Huskers missed their first trip to the NCAA Women’s College Cup Semifinals by the narrowest of margins, as Notre Dame advanced on sudden death penalty kicks, 4-3, after one of the greatest matches in NCAA Tournament history. NU earned the No. 5 ranking in the final poll of the 1999 campaign.
Walker was named Big 12 Coach of the Year and Nonen was tabbed Big 12 Player of the Year, as NU posted a perfect 10-0-0 mark in conference play. Nonen and Morneau repeated as All-Americans in 1999.
Nebraska swept the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles again in 2000 before making the Sweet 16. NU finished in the top 10 nationally for the fifth consecutive season with the No. 9 spot in the final rankings after going 22-2-0. Christine Latham was named conference player of the year and claimed All-America honors, along with Meghan Anderson and Jenny Benson.
In 2001, Latham became the first league player to be named Big 12 Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons when she led the Huskers back to the Sweet 16. NU finished the season ranked 12th nationally, as Latham claimed All-America status for the second consecutive season.
Nebraska won its fifth Big 12 Tournament title in 2002 before making its seventh consecutive Sweet 16. Latham became the second Husker to earn All-America honors on three occasions. NU finished the 2002 campaign with the No. 13 ranking.
Nebraska added NCAA Tournament appearances in 2003, 2004 and 2005, finishing in the top 25 nationally during each of those seasons. NU reached the Sweet 16 in 2004, while making the second round in 2003 and 2005. Two-time All-American Brittany Timko became the first three-time Big 12 Player of the Year (2004, 2005, 2006).
As a member of the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska posted a league-best 98-43-8 regular-season mark (.685 winning percentage) in 15 seasons.
Fostering a Strong Fan Base
As the Huskers started having success, fans took notice. Nebraska’s perfect regular season in 1996 established a devoted following of Husker faithful as NU produced the sixth-highest average attendance in the nation.
In 1999, NU set a single-season school record and ranked among the top five in the nation with 1,529 fans per home game. In 2002, NU rewrote the single-game attendance record, when 4,830 fans attended the Nebraska vs. North Carolina contest to open the season.
Nebraska spent 10 years playing at the Abbott Sports Complex (1995-2004) before moving on campus to the Nebraska Soccer Field in 2005. NU played at the Nebraska Soccer Field for 10 seasons before the opening of Barbara Hibner Stadium in 2015.
NU’s tradition of strong fan support continued at Hibner Stadium, as the Huskers averaged more than 1,000 fans per home game for the fourth consecutive year in 2018. Nebraska has ranked in the top 25 nationally and in the top two of the Big Ten in average attendance during each of its four years at Hibner Stadium.
Transition to the Big Ten
In 2013, Nebraska claimed both the Big Ten regular-season crown and tournament title to snap Penn State’s 15-year reign atop the conference and put NU soccer back on the national radar. The Huskers posted a its highest win total since 2000, going 19-4-1 overall and achieved the No. 13 ranking in the final poll along with the No. 4 spot in the final RPI.
The Huskers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after freshman Jaycie Johnson scored four goals in NU’s first-round win over Southeastern Louisiana. She became the fifth player in NCAA Tournament history to score four goals in a game and tied the single-game school record.
Nebraska went 10-1-0 in conference play, including a 5-0 record on the road during Big Ten play in 2013. Walker took home Big Ten and Regional Coach-of-the-Year honors, while All-American Ari Romero was named Big Ten Defender of the Year and Jordan Jackson was named Midfielder of the Year by the conference.
In 2016, Nebraska made its 12th NCAA Tournament appearance and advanced to the second round before falling to then-No. 18 UCLA. Johnson received All-America recognition after scoring nearly half of Nebraska’s goals during the season.
Athletes Continue to Haul in Awards
In 25 years, 13 Huskers have earned a total of 19 All-America certificates from the United Soccer Coaches (formerly the NSCAA) and five Huskers have captured freshman All-America accolades under Walker. In addition, 59 players have earned All-Region honors under Walker’s tutelage, including 34 first-team honorees.
As a member of the Big 12 Conference, the Huskers collected 70 regular-season all-conference selections and 33 All-Big 12 Tournament awards in 15 seasons. Nebraska had eight players earn Big 12 Player-of-the-Year honors in an 11-year span from 1996 to 2006, including two-time honoree Christine Latham (2000, 2001) and three-time winner Brittany Timko (2004, 2005, 2006).
Morgan Marlborough also achieved Big 12 Offensive Player-of-the-Year honors on two occasions, taking home the award in 2009 and 2010. She became just the third freshman to win a player-of-the-year award in conference history in 2009. Marlborough added All-America honors in 2010.
The success carried over when the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. NU has produced 26 All-Big Ten selections, including six first-team awards in eight years as a member of the conference.
In addition to awards for on-field performance, the Huskers been honored success for their work in the classroom. Five soccer student-athletes have earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, including first-team selection Caroline Flynn in 2016. Two Huskers have garnered Scholar All-America accolades from the United Soccer Coaches, including first-teamer Breanna Boyd in 2002.
Success Beyond Nebraska
Walker has helped Husker players compete at the international level, as 11 former Huskers have competed in 17 FIFA Women’s World Cup competitions since the event’s inception in 1991. Karina LeBlanc (Canada) made her fifth straight World Cup appearance in 2015 before announcing her retirement. She was one of three former Huskers to play in the 2015 World Cup, along with Selenia Iacchelli (Canada) and Ari Romero (Mexico).
LeBlanc is also one of three former Huskers to play in the Olympics, along with Brittany Timko (Canada) and Amy Walsh (Canada). Timko ranks tied for sixth on Canada’s all-time caps list (132). LeBlanc (110) and Walsh (102) are also ranked in the top 15.
In April 2018, Haley Hanson was called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team roster. She made her first appearance for the USWNT on April 8 in an international friendly against Mexico.
Former NU athletes have seen success at the professional level as well. Seven Huskers were selected in the inaugural Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) Draft in December 2000. Nebraska’s total number of athletes selected was second behind North Carolina. Four of the first 24 players chosen in the draft were former Huskers.
Nebraska added two draftees in 2001 before Breanna Boyd earned the No. 8 overall pick in the 2002 WUSA Draft by the defending champion Carolina Courage. Christine Latham also became an instant starter for the San Diego Spirit when she was picked up as a discovery player for the WUSA team in 2002.
Walker boasted five former athletes on 2003 WUSA rosters, three of whom were named to All-Star rosters, which ranked seventh among all NCAA Division I programs. The WUSA folded in 2003, but Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) began in 2009. LeBlanc was drafted No. 5 overall by the Los Angeles Sol in 2009, as one of four Huskers to play in the league before it folded in 2012 and was replaced by the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
In 2014, Jordan Jackson and Ari Romero were drafted by the Houston Dash. In 2017, Jaycie Johnson was taken 27th overall by the North Carolina Courage and Caroline Flynn was drafted 40th overall by the Portland Thorns. Hanson was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NWSL Draft when she was selected by the Houston Dash.
While Walker built the Huskers, he continued to expand his coaching experience as a staff coach for the Canadian National Team from 1995 to 2008, working with the Senior National Team, U-20, U-17 and U-16 National Teams during that time. During the summer of 1999, Walker was an assistant coach for Canada’s Women’s World Cup team. He also served as an assistant coach for the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile.
Walker came to Nebraska from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, following achievements at the collegiate, national and international levels.
Walker was named national staff coach for the Canadian Soccer Association in 1992, and the following year he was appointed an assistant coach for the Canadian World University Games team. Walker holds a Canadian “A” coaching license (highest level), a Level V certification and a USSF “A” license. Walker was a national coaching instructor for the Canadian Soccer Association and served as director of high performance for Ontario, where he supervised coaches and players at Ontario’s National and Provincial Training Center.
Walker was a standout sweeper for Queen’s University from 1982 to 1985 and received bachelor’s degrees in physical education and physical therapy from Queen’s in 1987. He earned a master’s degree in coaching science from Miami of Ohio in 1988. He also is a graduate of the Canadian National Coaching Institute.
The Kingston, Ontario, native is married to Mary Holmes and the couple has one daughter, Ally, and four sons, Declan, Cameron, Keegan and Liam.