Illini soccer to be tested by Aggies Friday

Illinois midfielder Kristy Weeks winds up for a pass during practice on Wednesday, August 30, 2006 at Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium. Adam Babcock

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team hasn’t played Texas A&M; since 2004 when they upset the Aggies 2-1 on their home field in College Station, Texas to advance to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Down early, the Illini rallied two goals in the last 23 minutes to clinch a dramatic come-from-behind victory and began a Cinderella story that led them all the way to the Elite Eight.

The No. 13-ranked Illini (1-1-0) are hoping to hold off the Aggies’ revenge Friday night when they again travel to College Station to face the No. 9-ranked Texas A&M; (2-0-0) as part of the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge. A&M; proved their prowess last weekend when they edged out a double-overtime victory against 19-time national champion North Carolina (1-1-0). Head coach Janet Rayfield is aware her team is going up against tough odds.

“Texas A&M; is going to come fast and hard and furious,” Rayfield said. “They’re going to require us to play with emotion and with passion and intelligence and all the things that make us a great team.”

The Illini matched up against another top-ranked Big 12 team last weekend, when they were defeated 5-0 by Missouri (2-0-0). Rayfield’s squad has had a difficult time scoring goals since preseason when they scored 10 goals in two games. But a strong week of practice and the addition of some set plays should have her goal-scorers ready to put some points on the board.

“I think our problem with goal scoring was we needed to knock the ball around a little bit,” Rayfield said. “It wasn’t so much what was happening in and around the goal, but what was happening away from the goal to get us to good scoring situations.

“We also have to score off of restarts. We got some corner kick and some attacking restarts we’ve put into place this week and hopefully that will help us as well.”

Rayfield also mentioned that the return of sophomore defender Emily Zurrer will “add some excitement to the mix.” Zurrer, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen Team last season, missed the first two games while playing with the Canadian U-20 National Team in Moscow for the World Championships. With her back, junior defender Mary Therese McDonnell will most likely move over to left-defense, a position at which she is more experienced.

On Sunday the Illini will stay in the Lone Star State to play Texas (0-1-0) at Myers Stadium in Austin. Texas, who have never faced the Illini, lost last Friday’s game against Auburn 1-0. The Longhorns will be without defender Stephanie Logterman, who will be playing in Russia with the U.S.A. U-20 National Team.

Also, if Rayfield’s women can win either of this weekend’s games, she will have reached the career milestone of 100 victories as a head coach, 54 of those wearing Orange and Blue. Though much is at stake this weekend, Rayfield insists her players are ready.

“We’re going to go down and play two tough teams,” Rayfield said. “The Big 12 is a strong conference, so we know we’re going to face two quality opponents. We’re going to have play at our top level and I think you’re going to see two very good soccer games.”