Illini soccer hopes for win over Iowa in final game

By Steve Contorno

Several days after Illinois shut out two of the conference’s top opponents, the Big Ten awarded the Illini by naming one of their defenders the Big Ten Player of the Week.

Sophomore Emily Zurrer received her second Big Ten honor of the year for her defensive play. The Vancouver native was also named to both the Soccer Buzz Elite Team of the Week and Soccer America Team of the Week Wednesday for the second time this season.

The Illini will look to continue their defensive excellence Friday when they travel to Iowa for the final Big Ten game of the season.

Illinois (11-6-0, 7-2-0) locked up a second-place finish in the Big Ten last weekend when they beat then No. 17-ranked Purdue and No. 21-ranked Indiana. With no chance to move up or down in the standings, Illinois has little to risk against the conference’s last-place team. Iowa (6-10-0, 1-7-1) has the least amount of conference wins. But head coach Janet Rayfield said her team is prepared to treat this game like any other.

“We’ve got to try to go after this weekend,” Rayfield said. “We still have to get better to prepare for what’s coming after Iowa. The only way to do that is to really go after it Friday night. We have to figure out what it’s like to go after a team, even when we expect to win. This is going to be good for us.

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    “This program has never won eight games in a Big Ten regular season. We want that and we want to do something no Illinois team has never done. To have as many wins as Penn State is important to us.”

    Penn State (12-3-3, 8-1-1) locked up first place on Sunday with a come-from-behind win over Northwestern. Illinois beat the Nittany Lions 3-2 on Oct. 1.

    Illinois hasn’t finished as high as second place in the conference standing since 2003. In that season, the Illini went on to win the Big Ten tournament.

    Rayfield said that while the team is disappointed they beat the conference’s top three schools, and didn’t come away with the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten, this team still has a lot to be proud of.

    “I think we’ll take our second place finish and say it was a good, regular season for us,” Rayfield said.

    “In order for us to really be proud of what we’ve done in the Big Ten, we want a win on Friday night. All we’ve accomplished becomes sour if we don’t take care of business on Friday,” she added.

    Looking ahead to the Big Ten tournament, Illinois will have the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and could play any one of the conference’s bottom teams in the first round, including Ohio State or Michigan, whom Illinois both lost to.

    “At this point in time you never know what seed is best to have,” Rayfield said.

    “There are so many good teams in the Big Ten and there have been years I would rather have been third or fourth seed instead of first and second because you never know who you want to match up against,” Rayfield said.