Women’s soccer gets shaky start; Team prepares for home games

By Steve Contorno

Scoring goals hasn’t come easy for the No. 13-ranked Illini women’s soccer team this season, and last weekend was no different.

Illinois (1-3-0) was shut out twice against two Big 12 opponents, losing to No. 9-ranked Texas A&M; (3-0-1) 3-0 on Friday and then to the Aggies’ in-state neighbor, Texas (2-1-0), in a 1-0 double-overtime loss on Sunday.

“We played two very good and very tough teams,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “It was a great weekend for us, and we played very good soccer. We are definitely a better team than we were two weeks ago and that is our goal, to keep improving.”

Against Texas A&M; on Friday at College Station, Tex., the Illini remained in a scoreless tie until the 44th minute of the first half.

The Aggies scored on a counter-attack after an Illinois free kick. A&M; took advantage of an Illinois miscue after the restart, scoring their first goal.

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A&M; then increased their lead in the second half on two goals in two minutes, clinching their third win of the season and their second against top-25 teams.

Sophomore defender Emily Zurrer, in her first start since rejoining the team after playing with Canada’s U-20 National Team, had Illinois’ best scoring chance of the game.

In the 65th minute with the score still 1-0, junior forward Ella Masar, who has the team’s only goal this season, sent a corner to Zurrer. Zurrer’s shot ricocheted off the crossbar, leaving the Illini down a goal.

On Sunday, Illinois battled Texas in Austin past regulation time for a chance to bring themselves to .500 on the weekend and season. Illinois again struggled to score, but was not without opportunities. The officials called back two Illinois goals, one in regulation, the second coming in the 101st minute on an offside call after Masar again set up one of her teammates for a goal, this one a header off freshman Christina Sahly.

“Those three moments (the missed goal and the two called back goals) were difference-makers this weekend,” Rayfield said. “Had any of those went the other way, this weekend could have been completely different. I think people watching us know we are playing great soccer, and we are becoming a very good team.”

Texas scored three minutes after the offside penalty when Kelsey Carpenter of the Longhorns sprinted by two Illini defenders and stroked a game-winner from 17 feet out.

The win was Texas’ second of the weekend against the Big Ten, after they edged out No. 3-ranked Penn State 2-1.

Junior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens isn’t concerned with the team losing confidence in its play.

“When you first think about losing, it’s frustrating,” Carstens said. “But when you look back, we played two really great soccer games. There are small things we need to fix, but in the long run, this team believes in each other and we’re going to come out with some big wins in the next few weeks.”

After four tough road games to start the season, Illinois is ready to come home and play in front of their own crowd.

“It will be great to be at home, not just because we get to be at home, but because we have three days of training to improve ourselves,” Rayfield said. “These road trips have hardened us and made us a seasoned team, and I think has made us a very hungry team.”

The Illini will face Syracuse in the first round of the Illini Tournament on Friday, Sept. 8. Illinois hopes to get back on track with only three weeks before Big Ten play begins.

“There are a couple things we need to fix in the attack to get our forwards open,” Rayfield said. “But we are making great strides. We played well this weekend and there is still room for improvement for us to get better. We will be great in November.”