Soccer defeats top Big Ten teams

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team knocked off two of the Big Ten’s top teams this weekend and didn’t allow a goal in 180 minutes of soccer.

In doing so, the Illini clinched second place in the conference. It is only the second time in the program’s 10-year history that the team has finished as high as second place.

Illinois (11-6-0, 7-2-0) lost a chance to take first place when Penn State (12-3-3, 8-1-1) beat Northwestern 2-1 on Sunday. Northwestern was leading going into the half, but the Nittany Lions pulled out the victory and, with only one conference loss, will take home the Big Ten conference title. Illinois beat Penn State 3-2 on Oct. 1.

“I would like to say I’m really excited about taking second, but I’m almost feeling frustrated,” junior forward Ella Masar said. “I feel like we deserve to be number one. Two games got behind us.”

Despite what Masar’s disappointment might indicate, this weekend was a positive step for Illinois.

After losing two of their last four conference games, the Illini bounced back and beat two ranked Big Ten teams.

On Friday, Illinois played No. 17-ranked Purdue (12-4-2, 5-3-0), who came into the game tied with the Illini for third in the Big Ten. Illinois also used Friday’s game to honor the seniors playing in their final home games this weekend, and their teammates sent them off with a big win.

The Illini learned early why Purdue’s goalkeeper, Lauren Mason, is regarded as one of the conference’s best net-minders. The Big Ten’s saves leader put away six shots in the first half, including several diving stops.

Illinois had to use their heads in the second half to break the scoreless tie.

Freshman midfielder Jackie Santacaterina bounced a pass off her head past Mason in the first minute of the second half after freshman forward Courtney Ball saved a pass from going out of bounds and then flicked it over her head towards Santacaterina.

Later in the second half, the Illini sealed the victory when freshman forward Chichi Nweke blocked a pass in the offensive third and sophomore midfielder Mari Desjarlais sent the deflection to the left side of the box where Masar was waiting.

Masar headed the ball past Mason, securing the 2-0 victory.

“The first half they were giving us the outside shot because they had a lot of faith in Lauren Mason,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We knew to score on her we needed to get inside the box.”

“The victory means another Big Ten win and we’re trying to go after that one at a time,” Rayfield said. “But what makes this win special is we finally saw the defensive team that we need to see game-in and game-out. We scored some great goals tonight, but the consistent defensive effort makes it a different game.”

On Sunday, the Illini battled No. 21-ranked Indiana (9-5-4, 5-3-1), who was coming off a 1-0 double-overtime loss to Iowa on Friday – Iowa’s first Big Ten win.

Indiana, who came into Sunday’s game only allowing four goals in conference play, showed off their defensive capabilities.

But Illinois created enough offense to defeat the Hoosiers in a defensive showdown.

Masar netted her second goal of the weekend and sixth of the season on a shot that rolled from 10 yards out to the far post.

Bell assisted the play on a perfect pass to Masar that tallied Bell’s third assist of the season.

Illinois’ defense shut down the weak Hoosier attack that has only scored seven goals in Big Ten games.

“Indiana’s been a team that plays a lot of one goal games,” Rayfield said. “They just don’t give up many goals. For us to get one early was a big thing. We’re pretty confident in our defense right now, that we could keep the ball out of the net. We’ve got a powerful offense and great defense and we can win games either way.”

Senior forward Jessica Bayne was part of Illinois’ second place Big Ten finish as a freshman.

As a senior, she has played a critical role in the success of this year’s team.

But Bayne isn’t looking to call the season a success just because they wrapped up second place.

“It’s been a great four years and overall college experience,” Bayne said. “We had a great Senior Night and a great win, but we’re looking forward to keep playing for the rest of the season.”

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Slideshow Media Credit:

Josh Birnbaum, The Daily Illini.

1. Illinois’ Jessica Bayne tries to keep the ball away from Purdue’s Loredana Riverso during the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Illinois defeated No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.

2. Illinois’ Jackie Santacaterina heads the ball away from Purdue’s Shauna Stapleton during the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Santacaterina scored her first career goal, helping Illinois defeat No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.

3. Illinois’ Mary Therese McDonnell tries to keep the ball away from Purdue’s Shauna Stapleton during the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Illinois defeated No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.

4. After scoring Illinois’ second goal, Ella Masar jumps onto teammate Marty Desjarlais in celebration during the game against Purdue at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Illinois defeated No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.

5. Illinois’ Marty Desjarlais tries to keep the ball away from Purdue’s Shauna Stapleton during the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Illinois defeated No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.

6.Illinois’ Courtney Bell dribbles the ball as Purdue’s Christy Riggle follows closely behind her during the game at Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign on Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Illinois defeated No. 17 Purdue, 2-0.