The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois returns home to face surging Michigan and inconsistent Michigan State

Illinois%27+head+coach+Janet+Rayfield+instructs+her+team+during+the+game+against+No.+20+Wisconsin+at+the+Illini+Soccer+and+Track+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+12%2C+2013.
Illinois' head coach Janet Rayfield instructs her team during the game against No. 20 Wisconsin at the Illini Soccer and Track Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

Illinois' head coach Janet Rayfield instructs her team during the game against No. 20 Wisconsin at the Illini Soccer and Track Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

Daily Illini File Photo

Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois' head coach Janet Rayfield instructs her team during the game against No. 20 Wisconsin at the Illini Soccer and Track Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

Chris Kennedy, Staff writer

Last weekend, the Illinois women’s soccer team wrapped up one of its toughest road stints of the season — a Big Ten trip East to face Maryland, No. 17 Rutgers and No. 22 Penn State.

The Illini return home this weekend to face No. 23 Michigan and Michigan State.

The Illini earned their first conference point against Rutgers, but they struggled against against Penn State.

“We’re looking at the things we’re doing well, continuing to try to improve those,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We did some good things against a quality opponent, and a team like Penn State continues to push us.”

Michigan and Illinois have been trending in different directions. Michigan is heading into Champaign riding a seven-match winning streak, putting them at the top of the conference standings. The Wolverines broke into the national rankings for the first time this season and the first time since 2014.

Illinois is 1-5-1 in their last seven and is trending towards the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

While Illinois has struggled to score this season, Michigan has one of the conference’s most explosive offenses. One of the Illini’s biggest struggles has been converting scoring opportunities into goals, which has been one of the Wolverine’s greatest strengths. They’re leading the Big Ten in goals and are also scoring the most goals per game in the conference.

The Wolverines scoring has been balanced too: Three Michigan players are tied for the team lead in goals with five. One of those players is Nicky Waldek, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after a hat trick in Michigan’s double overtime win against Rutgers.

Illinois also shut down a strong Rutgers offense.

“We have to be as gritty as we were against Rutgers, we have to be as committed to defending all over the field,” Rayfield said. “We were successful against Rutgers because all eleven players on the field considered themselves part of our defensive effort.”

The Illini will be aided by the return of junior forward Kara Marbury, the team’s second-leading scorer last year. Coming off of injury, Marbury saw her first action since August against Penn State last weekend. Rayfield said that she will help the team on both sides of the field.

“She’s going to give us great defensive effort and she starts our movement so as we get more cohesive, that’s really going to help us,” Rayfield said. “We’ve got to get a rhythm that includes her in the mix and start working off of that.”

Marbury has been limited to one goal in this season, but Michigan State’s defense could provide the opportunity for Marbury to get on the board again. The Spartans have allowed five goals in their last two games and are have given up the second-most goals in the Big Ten.

Michigan State’s season has been defined by inconsistency. The Spartans haven’t won consecutive matches the entire season. Big Ten Freshman of the Week Hannah Jones scored a hat trick in their victory over Maryland last week, but the team followed that effort with a 3-1 loss to Rutgers.

Michigan State currently sits at eighth in the Big Ten standings, the final spot to qualify for the Big Ten tournament. Illinois is last in the conference, but just five points back.

“It’ll be nice to be in a routine and a rhythm that’s certainly familiar to us,” Rayfield said. “We’re expecting a great home crowd to give this team a little extra boost of energy and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”

cmkenne2@dailyillini.com 

Leave a Comment