No. 15 Illini victorious over No. 9 Penn State

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Illinois’ Ella Masar kicks the ball to score the winning goal in the game against Penn State at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006. Masar scored a total of two goals, helping No. 15 Illinois defeat No. 9 Penn State, 3-2.

By Steve Contorno

In front of a record-setting home crowd, the No. 15-ranked Illinois women’s soccer team came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat No. 9 Penn State (7-3-2, 3-1) for only the second time in the program’s history and their first come-from-behind victory of the season.

Over 2,600 fans packed the Illinois Soccer Stadium for Soccer Fest 2006 and the start of homecoming week festivities. The mark shattered the previous Illinois home attendance record of 1,046.

The Illini (6-4-0, 2-0) got off to a slow start and the Nittany Lions took advantage of it, scoring quick back-to-back goals in the 17th and 20th minute.

Aubrey Aden-Buie, the Big Ten’s second leading goal scorer, netted the first goal for Penn State.

Katie Schoepfer scored Penn State’s second goal after Illinois goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens came out to play a ball and misjudged her timing, allowing Schoepfer to flick a shot into a wide open net.

But Illinois was not without opportunities in the first half. Freshman forward Chichi Nweke had a breakaway opportunity, but the Penn State keeper easily controlled her shot. After a restart off of a foul just outside the box, senior forward Jess Bayne sent a shot just wide of the net.

“We created some dangerous chances in the first half,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “It’s not like we didn’t create things. We could believe in the fact we were creating chances and it was just a matter of finishing those.”

Illinois finished most of their opportunities in the second half, scoring three goals on five shots on goal while shutting down the Nittany Lions offensively. In the 57th minute, Nweke gave Illinois their first goal after the Illini stole a ball in the midfield. Bayne got control of the ball and slipped a pass through defenders, right to the foot of Nweke, who drilled a shot into the middle of the net from six yards out.

Less than three minutes later, junior forward Ella Masar scored her first goal since the season opener when she sprinted up the left sideline, crossed into the midfield and drove a shot into the lower left corner, tying the score at 2-2.

“I was just thinking ‘head down,'” Masar said. “(Assistant Coach Marcia McDermott) always tells me to just come out, relax, have fun and get your body over it. And it went in. I was lucky, someone was on my side today.”

But Masar wasn’t done yet. Off a pass from Bayne, Masar drove up the right sideline and again crossed over the middle and blasted a left foot through the hands of the Penn State keeper to give the Illini the lead in the 83rd minute. Illinois held on for the next seven minutes to win the game.

“It’s been frustrating all year,” Masar said. “I finally found the back of the net and everything was working.”

“I think (Masar) said in the second half ‘I believe and I’m going to show this team I believe,'” Rayfield said. “When she does that, the team really starts to believe.”

Rayfield said that Illinois did not come out with the confidence of a Top 25 team, but in the second half they lost their timidity and played much stronger.

“In the second half we just came out and believed in what we worked on,” Rayfield said.

“We didn’t play a tough schedule to come out and be afraid of a good team. Now we just need to believe in ourselves from the time the whistle blows,” she added.

After giving up two soft goals in the first half, the defense suffocated the Penn State scoring attack, allowing only one shot on goal.

Carstens made a diving save after a foul just outside the box to knock away Penn State’s only scoring chance of the second half.

“(In the second half) we needed to be more aggressive defensively,” Rayfield said. “We were playing back and letting them make a mistake and a good team like Penn State is not going to make a lot of mistakes. I thought our defensive pressure was much better in the second half and that was probably the difference in the game.”

“We knew what we had to do and we each had our roles,” said sophomore defender Jessica Levitt.

“Going out there we were confident in each other, we knew we just needed to execute. We found all our problems and we just went out there and fixed them,” she added.

Illinois beat Penn State statistically in almost every category including shots and corner kicks.

But Penn State had more fouls than Illinois, creating a more physical match than Illinois has been used to.

But Levitt said the Illini knew coming into this game that it was going to be a battle.

“It’s always important, especially in the Big Ten, because the Big Ten is so physical, that you go out there and match it,” Levitt said. “We were able to put pressure on them and put them back on their heels. Getting that third goal just took the wind out of them.”

Illinois remains in a tie for first place with Indiana (7-2-3, 4-0) who leads the Big Ten in conference wins. And, after knocking off the No. 9 Nittany Lions, the Illini are almost certain to move up in the rankings.

Levitt said that makes Illinois the team to beat.

“This win gives us a ton of confidence going into the Big Ten,” Levitt said. “The only thing is now we’re the ones with the target on our chest. Everyone’s going to come out to get us. We are going to have to come out and work every single day, because they’re going to be coming for us.”