Illini soccer scores big against road opponents

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Illinois Shannon McDonnell attempts to dribble past Utahs Melissa Crespo in the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006. Illinois won, 4-1.

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Illinois’ Shannon McDonnell attempts to dribble past Utah’s Melissa Crespo in the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006. Illinois won, 4-1.

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team opened the Big Ten season scoring goals where they haven’t scored many this year: on the road.

Prior to this weekend, Illinois (6-4-0, 2-0) had trouble scoring goals in away games, getting outscored 11-2. But Illinois had a scoring breakout this weekend, dominating Wisconsin in Madison 4-2 and then Northwestern in Evanston 2-0. Head coach Janet Rayfield said it was important for Illinois to come out strong in their Big Ten opener.

“In the non-conference schedule we weren’t great in terms of our results on the road,” Rayfield said. “But I think we became comfortable playing on the road. Wins in the Big Ten aren’t easy to come by, and road wins are even harder to come by. So to start the Big Ten season with two wins on the road gives us a great jump start.”

Friday, against Wisconsin (4-3-2, 1-1), Illinois scored early when freshman forward Courtney Bell notched her second goal of the season off a corner kick from junior midfielder Kristi Weeks. Wisconsin tied the game in the 23rd minute, but Illinois regained their lead five minutes later when junior defender Mary Therese McDonnell scored her first goal of the season. Freshman forward Chichi Nweke assisted the goal.

Illinois went on to score two more goals, finishing with four goals on eight shots on net.

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On Sunday, Illinois battled in-state rival Northwestern (5-5-0, 1-1). Rayfield kept her unbeaten streak against the Wildcats going, pulling out a 2-0 win, despite being taken out of their game. Rayfield said there was a “physical battle” in the midfield that forced the Illini to fight for every ball.

“You got to give a little credit to Northwestern, they came with a lot of pressure in the midfield,” Rayfield said. “We could never get the ball on the ground and start to play and find our space on the flank. There was a pretty good fight in the midfield to establish ball control.”

While most scoring attacks this season began with a sprint down the sideline, Illinois had to find other ways to get the ball in the net. Rayfield looked to her bench and found senior forward Jess Bayne, who was twice substituted into the game and scored both goals for the Illini.

“I took the responsibility to get my shots on frame and it so happened that they both found the net,” Bayne said. “It was a good opportunity for me to lift my team up.”

Bayne, Illinois’ leading goal scorer last season, has accepted a role as a non-starter and has had success so far. Her four goals in the season have her tied for first on the team with Nweke. Bayne said she would continue to try to come off the bench and provide a spark for her team.

“I’m going to continue to do whatever my coach wants me to do to help the team,” Bayne said. “If it’s coming off the bench I will continue to come off the bench and work as hard as I can to do whatever I can for this team.”

“We just have so many weapons,” Rayfield said. “On a Friday-Sunday schedule when you have to play two Big Ten games, the more weapons you have the easier it’s going to be to be successful in this conference.”

Illinois had trouble at times keeping Northwestern out of the scoring third. In the first half, Northwestern was on a breakaway, but McDonnell chased her across the field and deflected the shot away from the goal. Rayfield admitted that if McDonnell didn’t prevent that goal, the results could have been different. McDonnell said her play and a few other defensive stops were key to the victory.

“Those stops changed the momentum for us,” McDonnell said. “(Northwestern) thought they had a big break, but someone always came through and stepped up and it really got the team going.”