Women’s soccer dealt defeat

Womens soccer dealt defeat

By Steve Contorno

After losing junior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens to a broken leg for the final five games of last season, the Illini were hoping she would stay on the field for longer than 39 minutes.

But after receiving a red card during Friday’s match against South Carolina on a questionable call by the officials, Carstens was forced to leave the game and was replaced with freshman Alexandra Kapica, making her first career appearance for Illinois.

Officials claimed Carstens intentionally touched the ball outside of the box when a Gamecock player’s shot struck Carstens in the arm. Carstens also missed Sunday’s game as a result of the red card.

Kapica held her own between the pipes though, denying South Carolina a goal for the next 51 minutes of play, despite the Illini playing down a man because of the red card.

“The situation forced us to respond,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We had to look at our responsibilities, change our psychological mindset of the game, and play well in a situation where we knew it would be difficult. But we came through.”

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It wasn’t until the 83rd minute that the Illini put a goal on the board. In a late-break scoring chance, junior forward Ella Masar slipped away on a pass from freshman defender Emily Pickard and sent a shot into the back of the net. It would stand as the only goal of the game, giving the No. 13 Illini a 1-0 victory in the first game of their tenth season.

“It was just great hard work from my teammates,” Masar said. “Emily (Pickard) saw I was open and just kicked it to me and I just put my head down and ran. Luckily, the keeper came out and I just kept thinking ‘back corner, back corner’ and I put it right there.”

Sunday, however, the Illini squared off against Missouri, host of the Nike Tiger Invitational. Illinois missed Carstens almost as much as they did last year. In a physical 5-0 loss, the Illini evened their record to 1-1. But Rayfield insisted there was more to the loss than not having her top goalkeeper.

“Not having (Carstens) in net was a factor, but not the reason for our loss,” Rayfield said. “Blaming that doesn’t fix everything. It had nothing to do with us not showing up to play. If anything we should have played stronger defense to protect our freshman goalie.”

In just two minutes, the Illini found themselves down a goal, when Mizzou’s Elyse Nikonchuk sent a header past Kapica.

The scoring never stopped.

Missouri added two more goals in the next ten minutes, both scored by Ashley Hamblin. Hamblin added an assist in the 76th minute, passing off to teammate Breanna Thornton for the Tigers’ fifth goal.

“They took us out of what we were good at and imposed on us what they were good at, which is physical soccer,” Rayfield said. “We had opportunities, but by the time we found our game it was too late.”

Missouri’s goalkeeper, Mallory Forst, shut out the Illini and posted five saves. While Illinois’ women attempted 16 shots, only five were on goal. Junior midfielder Kristy Weeks had two of those shots on goal, and earned her way onto the all-tournament team, along with her teammate, junior midfielder Marti Desjarlais.

But Illinois’ top goal scorers from last season were relatively quiet. Senior forward Eva Strickland, who had five goals in 2005, had only one shot on goal the entire tournament. Jessica Bayne, the team’s number one goal scorer last year, didn’t have any. But head coach Janet Rayfield looked toward the positives of last weekend’s games.

“Our goal is to get better, and Friday we were in a tough situation, but it forced us to grow up,” Rayfield said. “We need to look at the good things about Sunday, and that is we learned a lesson: at the college level every game is going to be a battle.

“If you play great and lose it’s hard to improve. That wasn’t the case here. We played poorly, but we can learn from it and get better before the Big Ten season starts.”

Junior defender Mary Therese McDonnell called Sunday’s game a “wake-up call” and said the team realized that they need to work harder on the field.

“We had a great preseason, and it was good seeing the practice time finally come together,” McDonnell said. “It might not have come out as we planned, but we can look at this loss as an opportunity to improve.”

Next weekend, the Illini head to Texas for the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge and will face both Texas and Texas A&M.;

The Illini are looking to comeback from Sunday’s lopsided contest and have two big games on the road before the home opener on September 8.

“There are always bumps on the road to a championship season,” Masar said. “We would rather have the losses come at the beginning of the season than at the end. If we beat Texas and Texas A&M; next week, no one is going to remember that game against Mizzou.”