Weekend yields mixed results for women’s soccer

Weekend yields mixed results for womens soccer

By Steve Contorno

If women’s soccer had a BCS, Illinois might be able to make a bowl bid on strength of schedule alone.

The No. 18-ranked Illini (4-4-0) faced two more top programs this weekend, their fifth and sixth games against ranked opponents this season. On Thursday, the St. Louis Billikens (4-1-2) upset the Illini in a 2-1 double-overtime heartbreaker in St. Louis. While the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll doesn’t have the Billikens ranked, at least two other coaches polls recognize St. Louis as a top-30 team.

Illinois scored early when senior forward Eva Strickland sent an end line pass across the box to sophomore midfielder Marti Desjarlais, who headed the ball past the SLU goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead.

The Illini held their lead until the 51st minute when the Billikens were able to score on a rebound off a deflection.

St. Louis then scored the game winner in the second overtime, despite Illinois generating most of the scoring chances during the extra minutes.

“We created the things we needed to create to win the game,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Our soccer has improved so much from our end line to the top of their 18-yard box it’s incredible. Now we just need to get some confidence in putting the ball in the net.”

On Sunday, Illinois came back home to play No. 12-ranked Utah Utes (4-3-0). The Illini came out firing by the foot of Strickland, who had three shots on goal in the first ten minutes.

It wasn’t until the 39th minute that Illinois was able to score on a powerful shot off the right foot of senior forward Jessica Bayne, her second of the season.

Freshman midfielder Jackie Santacaterina, who tallied another assist on Illinois’ second goal scored by Chichi Nweke, assisted the goal. Bayne said it was important for Illinois to bounce back quickly after Thursday’s defeat.

“We had many opportunities on Thursday and it was very upsetting not to come out with a win,” said Bayne. “So coming back out and winning 4-1 against a ranked team will really help us going into Big Ten season.”

Nweke added two more goals for the hat trick later in the second half. The freshman forward has four goals on the season and said the team has continued to get better, despite their record.

“We didn’t play our best, but all that matters is we won,” Nweke said. “We’re mixing well and the lower-classmen are learning from the upperclassmen.”

Also contributing to the Illini victory was the defensive play of sophomore Jessica Levitt. Her constant disruption of the Utes’ scoring attack, aided by her footwork up the sideline, kept Utah from putting together scoring chances.

“(Levitt) is so crafty when she has the ball,” Rayfield said. “I think in the second half she really adjusted to where they were playing and what the game was like and made the most of it.”

Rayfield said that while the team was able to find the net, some parts of their game are lacking. Still, she thinks her squad is almost ready to put everything together.

“Anytime you beat a top-25 team you got to be excited about that,” Rayfield said. “The thing for us is the pieces and if you could put them all together. Today we had a goal-scoring piece, against St. Louis we had great possession, great speed of play, our energy level was great. If we can put those two things together, then this team is really where they need to be.”

Next weekend, Illinois will begin their tour of the Big Ten, starting off with Wisconsin (2-1-2) on Friday and then Northwestern (2-4-0) on Sunday. Bayne said with the difficulty of schedule so far this season, playing against the Big Ten will be that much easier.

“Every game we’ve lost or played we’ve learned something from it and I think it will help us in the long run by preparing us for everything,” Bayne said. “When we get into the Big Ten season we’ll be ready for everything that comes at us.”