Team’s defense shines in weekend victories

Illinois senior Alaree Gunville (19) defends the ball against Missouri´s Jennifer Nobis (9) on Sunday at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. Gunville tallied one goal this weekend when Illinois played and shut out Wright State 2-0. Shira Weissman

Illinois senior Alaree Gunville (19) defends the ball against Missouri´s Jennifer Nobis (9) on Sunday at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. Gunville tallied one goal this weekend when Illinois played and shut out Wright State 2-0. Shira Weissman

By Derek Barichello

The Illini soccer team’s first three wins was all about the offensive attack. Last Friday and Sunday, it was all about the Illini defense.

The Illini allowed only seven shots and one goal en route to an undefeated weekend in the Clash of the Conferences Tournament, beating Wright State 2-0 on Friday and Miami (Ohio) 3-1 on Sunday, to improve their record to 5-0 for the season.

“To come away with two wins on the road is always great,” said Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield. “The defense played really well. The goal we gave up at the end of the Miami game was disappointing because we wanted that shutout, but overall the defense did a great job of executing on all the adjustments we worked on in practice.”

For the Illini, it is all starting to come together at the right time. They host the 21st-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at noon today at the Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium and start Big Ten play on Friday.

“We’re excited,” said senior forward Tara Hurless, who recorded two goals and an assist over the weekend. “We’re playing well; now we have to get it done against Kansas.”

In addition to the great defensive play, the Illini got a big boost from their bench. In the Wright State game, bench players had eight of Illinois’ 17 shots, including a goal by senior midfielder Alaree Gunville. Freshmen defenders Kara Gostisha and Mary Therese McDonnell recorded valuable minutes in the backfield for the Illini.

“It was great to get everyone in the game,” Hurless said. “(The bench) did really well. We had all our starters off the field and they were holding their own against two pretty good teams.”

The Illini’s depth could play a bigger role as the season progresses. With reserves playing quality minutes, it allows them to rest their starters for situations like today when the team has only one day of rest after a game.

“Having games on Sunday and then having to turn around and play on Tuesday – it makes the bench that much more important,” Rayfield said. “We gave up some solid minutes in the midfield. It allowed us to rest some people, so we’ll be fresher for Kansas.”

Not only were quality minutes from the bench important in resting the starters, but they also allowed the reserves to get some experience.

“It is an investment for the future,” Rayfield said. “Most of our bench will be starting sometime in the future for us. It gives them quality playing time. Also, facing such a formidable opponent as Kansas on Tuesday it’s important that our reserves get out on the field and are able to keep the game in our control.”

In order for the Illini to be successful against Kansas, Rayfield believes they will have to be technically cleaner.

“We need to do a better job of receiving the ball under pressure,” Rayfield said. “We’ll be playing on a better surface at home, so we should be able to execute that better.”

Finishing scoring opportunities continues to be a problem for the team. In the Miami game, the Illini had trouble putting the game away early, recording seven shots in the first half but only having one goal to show for it.

“We need to execute on chances at the beginning of the game,” Hurless said. “When you score at the beginning of a game, it changes the whole pace. It allows us to play our style of game and control the pace.”