Rayfield has chance to win 100th game

Illinois midfielder and defender, Kara Gostisha, dribbles during practice Aug. 30 at Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium. Adam Babcock The Daily Illini

Illinois midfielder and defender, Kara Gostisha, dribbles during practice Aug. 30 at Illinois Track and Soccer Stadium. Adam Babcock The Daily Illini

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team hasn’t faced an unranked opponent since the first game of the season when they beat South Carolina 1-0. Since then, they have played Missouri, Texas A&M; and Texas, ranked 18th, 3rd and 8th respectively – all on the road. In those games, the Illini were outscored 9-0.

With a two-game tournament coming up, head coach Janet Rayfield will have an opportunity to pursue her 100th career win as a NCAA women’s head soccer coach in front of her home crowd. Fifty-four of those wins have come with the Illini.

The tournament starts for Illinois when Syracuse (0-3-1) comes into town on Friday night, Illinois (1-3-0) will not only have their first home game of the season, but will also be playing their first game in a while against an unranked team.

But that won’t last for long.

On Sunday, the Illini will face Auburn in another tough match up for the final game of the tourney. Auburn has started out the season undefeated (4-0-0), including a 1-0 victory against Texas. The Tigers have climbed to the No. 13 rank, a spot Illinois claimed before the season began. Illinois is no longer ranked in the top 25.

Rayfield said a full week of practice has her players ready to compete this weekend in front of their home crowd.

“We actually get a three day training week, which really helps (the players’) rhythm and helps us take care of some things to get prepared for the game,” Rayfield said. “It’s nice to stay home and not waste a day packing our suitcases and traveling.”

During practice this week, Rayfield had her squad focused on difficult situations that have hurt the Illini this season.

Illinois has allowed too many goals in the first and last five minutes of the half, often killing any momentum the Illini had built. Rayfield had her team work in five minute increments to emphasize not giving up those kinds of goals.

“Both of the times we’ve given up big goals off counter-attacks it’s been late in the half,” Rayfield said. “So we’re really working on our mental focus in those periods of the game and not just defensively. We want to try and swing those moments of the game into our favor from an attacking standpoint.”

Despite both teams’ record, Rayfield said that when Illinois and Syracuse face off this weekend it will be two teams that are much better now then they were two weeks ago. Rayfield called Syracuse a “young team trying to put the pieces together,” and will try to bring some national recognition back to the program with a win against them.

Rayfield also found likenesses between Illinois and Auburn. She noted that the Tigers have players that like to attack by getting wide on the flank, similar to junior forward Ella Masar’s style.

“Their style consists of things we already see in practice because we run them ourselves,” Rayfield said. “Auburn’s flying high and trying to ride their momentum. So emotionally how the team’s come out may be different, but in terms of how we play, you’re going to see some similarities.”