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Illini soccer kicks off Big Ten play this weekend

Illinois%27+Allison+Stucky+%2810%29+gets+a+hug+from+Alicia+Barker+after+scoring+the+only+goal+in+the+game+against+Illinois+State+at+Illnois+Soccer+Stadium+on+Sunday%2C+August+21.+The+Illini+won+1-0.
Illinois' Allison Stucky (10) gets a hug from Alicia Barker after scoring the only goal in the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Illinois' Allison Stucky (10) gets a hug from Alicia Barker after scoring the only goal in the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Allison Stucky (10) gets a hug from Alicia Barker after scoring the only goal in the game against Illinois State at Illnois Soccer Stadium on Sunday, August 21. The Illini won 1-0.

Chris Kennedy, Staff writer

After one of its most disappointing non-conference runs in recent memory, the Illinois soccer team is ready for a fresh start. The team will have this opportunity when it kicks off the Big Ten season Thursday night against Purdue.

“No matter what happened in the non-conference, everything got wiped clean,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “The Big Ten season was going to be a fresh start, but also a completely clean slate. It wipes away anything good and anything bad. It really is a restart.”

After a 2-0 start to the season, the team dropped five matches in a row, including three shut-outs. At 3-5-0, it’s the Illini’s worst non-conference record in 10 years.

The Illini struggled to generate offensive pressure in their second weekend of play during a road trip through Missouri. They corrected that on a two-game swing through Texas, (outshooting their opponents 31-23) but were still outscored 4-1 and lost both matches.

In their return home last weekend, the Illini split their matches — losing to Miami of Ohio in a double overtime Friday night and beating Evansville on Sunday to snap their five-game losing streak. Despite outshooting the Redhawks and the Aces 35-12 last weekend, the Illini only scored once —  their first goal in three games.

“Our possession, our ability to keep the ball and make an opponent work really hard to get the ball has certainly been a strength,” Rayfield said. “The thing that we take into the Big Ten is now we really have to capitalize on the opportunities we have.”

The Illini have made the Big Ten tournament five years in a row; the journey to a sixth consecutive trip starts with conference play this weekend.

So far this season the team has leaned heavily on its experienced upperclassmen, especially a strong group of veteran midfielders. Senior midfielders have scored all but two of the team’s goals this season, including Summer Schafer, who put in the game winning goal against Evansville and against Morehead State in the season opener.

Purdue comes to Champaign for the conference opener Thursday night. The Boilermakers are coming off their first winning season since 2009, but still went 2-4-0 in conference play.

They haven’t played a full game in more than a week because their match against Utah was cancelled last Friday.

The Illini will play another Hoosier State opponent on Sunday against 3-4-1 Indiana. The Hoosiers have a young roster, with 11 true freshmen on the team. Freshman goalkeeper Sarah L’Hommedieu has impressed thus far, ranking second in the Big Ten with 38 saves.

“Every minute of every Big Ten game is a battle,” Rayfield said. “Every single game matters, and you start to keep track of points and you start to look at where you are in the conference standings. It’s the day-to-day intensity that changes with the Big Ten season.”

cmkenne2@dailyilllini.com

 

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