Soccer beats Michigan St., loses to Michigan over weekend

Soccer beats Michigan St., loses to Michigan over weekend

By Steve Contorno

Illinois missed their chance to avenge last season’s Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan, falling 2-1 to the Wolverines in a physical game that produced three yellow cards and 33 fouls.

“Today’s game was a test for us to be able to deal with a team who was trying to physically take us out of our game,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We had to try and match them physically and then we stopped taking care of the small details in front of both goals.”

Illinois (9-6-0, 6-2-0) traveled to the state of Michigan to face both the Wolverines and Michigan State, and for the second week in a row, split their games against Big Ten opponents. On Friday, Illinois beat Michigan State (6-8-1, 2-5-0) handily by a score of 3-0. The team’s top three goal scorers led the attack for the Illini.

Junior forward Ella Masar scored the first goal on a breakaway in the 25th minute. After Masar stripped the ball away from Michigan State, she took the ball the entire field and beat the Spartan goalkeeper to give Illinois a 1-0 lead.

Freshman forward Chichi Nweke added a second goal in the 34th minute, and senior forward Jess Bayne sealed the victory late in the second half with a goal of her own. Masar assisted the Bayne goal, increasing her team-leading total to seven.

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    “(Masar) has such a physical element to her game and she can really beat a team with her body,” Rayfield said. “(Nweke) can wear them down, too. And (Bayne) really sucks in defenders and can move the ball that way. The fact that they all can attack and that they use each other and that really gives us an advantage.

    “(Sunday) we weren’t coordinated and couldn’t work with each other to be dangerous.”

    On Sunday, Illinois faced Michigan (7-5-4, 3-2-2) in a rematch of last season’s Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Michigan beat the Illini 2-1 and destroyed their dreams of a championship. But Michigan proved they still knew the secret to beating the Illini and scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute.

    After a penalty kick at the start of the second half gave the Wolverines their first goal, the Illini responded with a penalty kick of their own after Masar drew a foul inside the box. Junior defender Mary Therese McDonnell took the shot for Illinois and buried it in to the back of the net.

    But Illinois failed to shut down Michigan’s offense and allowed them to score the final goal after junior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens misplayed a cross. After the goal, Masar said that Illinois wasn’t able to finish off their chances as well as they did on Friday.

    “Friday we put shots on frame and then we finished them,” Masar said. “(Sunday) we got our shots on frame but that last step wasn’t there. We had one-on-one opportunities with the goalie and we didn’t put it in the net today.”

    Defensively, the Illini were without sophomore Jessica Levitt, who missed her second straight game with an injury. Rayfield said that while Levitt was missed by the team, her replacements, sophomore Jamie Alvis and freshman Brittany Garrett, played well in her spot.

    “Even with the changes to our defense, we looked solid in the back,” Rayfield said. “The two players that stepped up and filled the hole did a great job. Other things and other mistakes were the reason we lost.”

    McDonnell, who has played almost every minute for Illinois this season, said the defense came out ready to play. Things just “didn’t go our way,” she said.

    “We came out strong and prepared, the circumstances were just unfortunate,” she added.

    Illinois now finds itself in a tie for third in the conference. Indiana is now in second after being upset by Northwestern. Next weekend, Illinois will have to play Indiana followed by Purdue, with whom Illinois is tied for second. It could be the biggest weekend of the season for Illinois and they will have to fight to control their spot in the conference.

    “We’re going to need to focus on getting the ball in the back of the net,” McDonnell said. “Teams are learning how to defend us and we need to find ways to work around that.”

    Masar said the Illini could see more physical games after losing two games to tough teams.

    “We got to know we’re going to get hit,” Masar said. “Now the scouting report says on us that we can be beat with a physical game. They’re going to think that if they hit us and get restarts, they can beat us. We need to prove that we can match it and still win.”

    Rayfield said that another key for the rest of the season will be the Illini’s ability to use the diversity of their weapons to find ways to score.

    “In a game where goals are few and far between, if we can get ourselves in a position to use the weapons we have we can de really well,” Rayfield said. “We need to make sure we have the ball by taking care of the small things in both boxes in order to make our weapons dangerous.”