Jordan Jackson hates to lose and loves to score goals.
Both could be the perfect tonic for the Nebraska soccer team.
Jackson, sidelined most of last season with a torn MCL in her right knee, will return to the lineup when the Huskers open the season at home against Southeast Missouri State at 6 p.m. Friday and then Cincinnati at noon Sunday.
A three-year starter, one of NU’s leading scorers with 26 goals and 19 assists and a captain, the 5-foot-7 forward from Overland Park, Kan., says she’ll bring a hunger to win her senior season, which she hopes will set the tone for the rest of the team.
“I plan to score a lot of goals, so hopefully that happens, too,’’ she said.
Her leadership and experience will be just as important, she said, as she tries to help shepherd NU to the top of the Big Ten.
NU coach John Walker agrees, praising her work ethic, willingness to compete daily and the way she inspires her teammates.
Her on-field performances aren’t bad, either.
“She is much more than a scorer — she is also a good passer, strong tackler, good in the air, intelligent and extremely high in all of the competitive phases of the game,’’ Walker said. “She really is capable of playing any position at a high level and in a sense is a ‘complete player.’ ”
Jackson started practicing again last spring and said she fit in seamlessly with senior Stacy Bartels and junior Mayme Conroy, who had picked up most of the scoring duties while she was out. Both are from Omaha Skutt.
Freshman forward Jaycie Johnson saw some action last week in NU’s 2-1 exhibition win over Colorado College and Jackson expects her to make an impact on NU’s attack, too. New midfielders Courtney Claassen, Sydney Miramontez, Brooke Burris and Rachel Brennan also could be in the mix.
“There is a lot more competition for playing spots than last year,’’ Jackson said. “We don’t have a set lineup, which I think is really exciting for us. We never know who is going to start before the game.’’
With that increased firepower and some experience on defense, Jackson is hoping the Huskers can score enough to offset their biggest weakness of last year — not closing out games. The Huskers would give up goals with a couple of minutes left, which cost them in a 7-12-1 (4-7-0 Big Ten) campaign.
In practices, they have focused on their transition game, going from defending to attacking and vice versa.
“I think having that speed in our game is really going to help us,’’ Jackson said.
That work could help Nebraska surprise some people this year after being picked to finish ninth in the 12-team Big Ten. Her dream season, Jackson said, would be to go undefeated, win the Big Ten championship or tournament and go far in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m really confident going into our season,’’ she said. “I’m really excited.’’
Jackson said she also feels great. She’s had no problems with her knee, which she hasn’t had to tape since the spring.
It’s nice to start the season injury-free and with the trauma of her father’s death her junior season behind her. Craig Jackson was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in July, then had a brain tumor and died in September of that season.
He and her mother Maureen were her biggest fans.
“It’s definitely hard not having him here, watching me play,’’ Jackson said. “It was definitely a hard couple of years.’’
Now she’s looking ahead to a strong senior season, to put herself in good position to possibly be chosen in the National Women’s Soccer League draft in the spring. She’s on track to graduate in December with degrees in nutrition and exercise science and Spanish.
Physical therapy school will wait if she gets a shot in the pros, either in the United States or overseas.
To reach her goals for the team and herself, Jackson said it’s important for NU to be successful from the start.
“I think we just need to win,’’ she said. “It builds confidence, team morale and gives you a sense of pride.’’