Faherty, Carstens return from injuries; women’s soccer team begins season

Faherty, Carstens return from injuries; womens soccer team begins season

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team had a disappointing postseason last fall, when their Big Ten tournament life was cut short in an upset against Michigan, and again in the NCAA tournament by a dominant Florida State team, both 2-1 second-round losses.

But the Illini start this season a stronger team after adding the nation’s ninth best recruiting class, as well as returning the team’s top goal scorer from last year, senior forward Jessica Bayne. Already they are proving to be a high-caliber squad, defeating No. 25-ranked Marquette in preseason play. And while their defense was in top form as expected, the scoring onslaught was a surprise to even head coach Janet Rayfield.

“We expect to be great defensively,” Rayfield said. “The fun thing about the preseason games is that we scored 10 goals in two games. It gives us an extra bit of confidence because we can say that we defended like we always do, but we scored some great goals and scored a lot of them.”

Rayfield’s players will have a lot of expectations to live up to. The team enters the season as the Big Ten’s second ranked team behind perennial powerhouse Penn State, as voted by the coaches. The Illini also find themselves ranked No. 13 overall in the NCAA standings. Rayfield isn’t worried that her players won’t be able to live up to the hype surrounding them.

“This team knows that every moment in every game matters in building towards a national championship,” she said. “We’re really focused on getting better one game at a time. Every time we step on the field we try to improve, be that a training session or in a game.”

As a team with so much young talent, Rayfield highlights the importance of leadership from her returning the players. After a stress fracture forced her to redshirt in 2005, midfielder Paula Faherty returns for her fifth season with the Illini. Rayfield cited intangible qualities in Faherty that will make her a key member of the 2006 squad.

“Anytime you have a fifth-year senior, you’ve got someone with unbelievable experience,” Rayfield said. “(Faherty) is going to lead this team. She understands the game and has an unbelievable desire to take this team to the top.”

Faherty and the Illini will play their first regular season game Friday at 5 p.m. when they travel to Missouri for the Nike Tiger Invitational. Illinois will meet South Carolina in the first game. Saturday, they will face the tournament host, Missouri, at 1 p.m. Last year, the Illini excelled in non-conference games, posting a 4-2-2 record, both losses by just one goal. Junior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens boasted a goals-against average of 0.48 in last season’s non-conference games. Carstens missed the final five matches of last season after breaking her fibula against Purdue. With her back from injury, Rayfield knows her defense will be a force, a necessity for the upcoming non-conference schedule.

“The outcomes of these games are important for our long-term goals,” Rayfield said. “It will effect how we get seeded in the NCAA tournament. From a Big Ten standpoint, these games are all about preparation and getting us ready to compete at the level we know we can, defense especially, because that’s the kind of team we’ve been in the past, but very much offense as well.

“We will score some big goals this year.”