LINCOLN, NEB. As Kansas University's soccer players quietly walked over to comfort their three senior teammates whose careers had just ended with a 1-0 loss to Brigham Young in KU's first NCAA Tournament appearance Thursday a flash of red whipped by on the outskirts of the Abbott Sports Complex Field.
It was Nebraska's Cornhuskers, who were preparing for their tournament opener in the team's fifth-straight NCAA berth.
The brief combination of the two teams offered what may be the best summation of the Jayhawks' record-setting season a team on the cusp of national prominence but still in the shadows of a couple of Big 12 powers.
"Now that we made it we have to make it next year," KU's Pardis Brown said of the team's 13-7 season. "Our expectations are going to be much higher and I think the team will continue to improve.
"I think that we're on the brink of a great program. I think that from here on we'll always be in the top 25."
Brigham Young (14-6-1), which like tradition-rich Nebraska was playing in its fifth straight tournament, didn't dominate the Jayhawks, but the Cougars' talented midfield played big. It ultimately led to the game's lone goal with a little less than 15 minutes remaining.
"To be honest, I didn't think we played well enough to win the game," third-year KU coach Mark Francis said. "We had chances. The second half was definitely better than the first half, but ..."
At the start of the game, KU seemed unsure of itself and the experience of BYU allowed the Cougars to set up far more scoring chances as they out-shot the Jayhawks, 8-3 and had three more corner kicks.
"BYU has been there before and I think that really makes a difference," Francis said. "We have a really young team and never having been there before, I think it's tough to go the first time."
After its somewhat slow start, KU put on a torrid offensive attack in the final 10 minutes of the first half and opening 10 to 15 minutes of the second.
The Jayhawks accounted for six of their nine shots on goal over that time and took control over the Mountain West Conference champs.
"They just realized that we weren't playing the way weusually do and picked it up," Francis said. "I just don't really think that we ever got into a rhythm. We had glimpses of playing the way we do, but overall I don't think we played well enough to win it."
BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood, whose Cougars finished 10th in the nation last season, was afraid KU's momentum might give the Jayhawks the lead.
"I thought they kept playing hard and had some momentum," she said, "but we kept fighting and were fortunate enough to win."
It was KU that almost took the lead when freshman Amy Geha snapped a crossing shot as she fell down in the goalie box in the first five minutes of the second half, but BYU goalie Jennifer Waldron deflected the ball with a one-handed save.
KU tried to slow the Cougars' midfield attack by switching from a lineup that featured four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers to a lineup with three defenders, four midfielders and three attackers.
Still BYU's crisp passing behind five midfielders took control.
"We knew the midfield would be a question mark," Francis said, "because they're very good in the midfield. We left way too much space, especially out wide."
Finally, the Cougars consistent ball handling paid off with a goal.
In the 76th minute, All-American Aleisha Cramer hit a crossing pass that Lydia Ojuka took in stride and shot past outstretched KU goalie Meghan Miller for the game winner.
Francis, who is 28-28-3 at KU, said the most disappointing thing about the season's end was losing seniors Natalie Hoogveld, Hilla Rantalla and Melanie Schroeder.
"That was the toughest part," Francis said, "to go up and hug them after it was over. To know that it s all over is tough. But I told them they've all had fine careers and were a big part of why we are where we are now."
Brown agreed and said while KU will be extremely talented next year, things won't be the same without those seniors.
"The disappointing thing is to walk off the field and know that three of our teammates aren't going to be there with us next year," Brown said.
Rockwood said he Jayhawks' play in their first tournament reminded her of when BYU first qualified and she saw tremendous potential in KU's future.
"I think they were real happy just to get here," she said. "And once you get here it gives you confidence that carries over into the next season. I think they're going in the right direction."
Hoogveld said it was difficult to describe the feeling of knowing her KU career is over.
"It was exciting to be here, and of course we wish things would have turned out differently," she said, holding back tears. "But it's really special to see how far this program has come in my time here. We went from a group just playing soccer for fun to the fourth-best team in the conference."
Nebraska crushed Boston College, 5-0, on Thursday and will meet BYU at 7 p.m. Saturday.
BYU 1, Kansas 0
Kansas (13-7) 0 0 0
BYU (14-6-1) 0 1 1
Second half: Lydia Ojuka (Aleisha Cramer).
Shots: KU 9, BYU 20. Saves: KU (Meghan Miller 7), BYU (Jennifer Waldron 2).