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Illinois soccer falls on the road to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma

Illinois%27+Katie+Murray+%2826%29+dribbles+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Loyola+at+the+Illinois+Soccer+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+April+1.+The+Illini+won+2-1.
Illinois' Katie Murray (26) dribbles the ball during the game against Loyola at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Saturday, April 1. The Illini won 2-1.

Illinois' Katie Murray (26) dribbles the ball during the game against Loyola at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Saturday, April 1. The Illini won 2-1.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Katie Murray (26) dribbles the ball during the game against Loyola at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Saturday, April 1. The Illini won 2-1.

Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

The Illini struggled during their weekend trip to Oklahoma, falling to No. 18 Oklahoma State 2-0 on Friday and to Oklahoma 2-1 on Sunday.

On Friday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the team was unable to overcome a strong offensive showing from undefeated Oklahoma State.

Illinois allowed two goals to slip through, including a fourth minute strike by forward Haley Woodard from 24 yards out.

Sophomore midfielder Jaci Jones gave the Cowgirls a commanding lead in the 20th minute, getting to the ball first and tapping it in after sophomore goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham saved the initial shot attempt.

Junior midfielder Katie Murray was an offensive presence throughout the game for Illinois, registering four shots with two on goal. Sophomore Kelly Maday also got off three shots, putting one on target.

Cunningham was called upon to make nine saves in the match and kept the persistent Oklahoma State attack from scoring in the second half.

Illinois had the better of the Cowgirls late, as they totaled five shots in the last six minutes, but could not break through to score a goal.

Oklahoma State put up 22 shots compared to Illinois’ 12. Eleven of the Cowgirls’ shots were on frame, while the Illini only put four shots on target. Oklahoma State earned 10 corners on the night and Illinois had four.

Head coach Janet Rayfield said the team’s inability to finish chances has been a reason for the team’s goalscoring troubles so far this season, but she still is confident its issues are fixable.

“We’ve got goalscorers on this team,” Rayfield said “They have to execute and just be in the moment and do what they’re capable of doing in that moment, and if I they do then I think goals will come.”

In Norman, Oklahoma, on Sunday, the Illini failed to assert themselves against a team whose only win had come against Tulsa in overtime.

Oklahoma seized the lead in the 24th minute off of a corner when Kristina O’Donnell headed in Marissa McMahand’s swinging cross, and the Sooners doubled their advantage in the 51st minute when Kaylee Dao put one past Cunningham to make it 2-0.

Cunningham made four saves in the first half before going on to make one more in the second half. Illinois drew two saves in each half from Oklahoma goalkeeper McKinley Crone, but was never able to convert on any chances from the swing of play.

Murray pulled one back for the Illini in the 64th minute after the team drew a foul in the box. Murray stepped up and buried the ensuing penalty kick to score her first goal of the season and the fourth of her career.

But it was not enough to dig the team out of the hole, and Illinois was sent home with another close loss on the road.

Illinois was outshot 12-10 by Oklahoma, and the Sooners earned seven corner kicks while the Illini earned five.

Rayfield said improving in possession will be key for the team being competitive going forward.

“We’ve really got to be able to keep possession as we move up the field,” Rayfield said. “It’s not that we can’t, it’s just that we need to be more consistent at it.”

The team has now lost four of their last six matches and things will not get any easier.

Next up for Illinois — now 3-5 on the season — is the Big Ten season opener at undefeated Ohio State on Thursday night. On Sunday, they will travel to Penn State to wrap up their seven-game road stretch.

Rayfield wants her team to come out and assert themselves on the field.

“I want to see them compete, to expect good things and see that consistency of effort and expectation of execution,” Rayfield said. “I want the team to go into these games confident that, although we haven’t won a lot of games, we’ve put ourselves in some tough situations and those situations have made us better. Now we’ve got to go in believing that we can compete with anybody.”

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