Big Ten praises Illinois soccer

By Steve Contorno

In recognition of Illinois’ successful season, the Big Ten coaches awarded three Illinois women’s soccer players with yearly awards in a sweep of the conference’s top honors.

It is the first time in Big Ten history that three players from the same team were given the awards for Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

“We talked about as a team how there are names on those awards, but really it’s recognition for the team,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “For these three individuals to be a factor in all three awards is an honor for them and this team, and it’s great for this program because all three will be coming back next year.”

Junior forward Ella Masar was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after posting team highs in points, 19, and assists, 7.

Her three game-winning goals in Big Ten games led the conference.

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    Masar also averaged 1.4 points per game in conference play, and her ability to pass and shoot has been key to the Illini attack all season.

    Of Illinois’ 12 wins this season, Masar has either scored or assisted the winning goal in eight of those games.

    Masar’s knack for the big goal was never more apparent than in the Penn State game on Oct. 1.

    With the Illini down by one goal, Masar netted the tying goal and game-winner in the second half.

    Her performance in that game earned her player of the week honors for the Big Ten, Soccer Buzz and Soccer America. Masar was also unanimously named to the All-Big Ten team. On the defensive side, sophomore Emily Zurrer shared the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award with Penn State’s Ali Krieger.

    Twice this season, Zurrer earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week laurels, becoming the first non-goaltender to win the award multiple times in a season.

    The difference between the number of goals scored with and without Zurrer in the lineup is testament to the importance of her defensive contribution.

    Zurrer missed the first four matches playing with the Canadian U-20 National Team, and Illinois allowed nine goals in that span.

    Since then, Illinois has let in only 11 goals in 14 games.

    “Personally, I’m honored to receive this award,” Zurrer said. “But I give full credit to my teammates and the play of the back line with me because they’ve done a great job this year.”

    Forward Chichi Nweke locked up Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the first Illini to ever earn the honor, after scoring six goals and 15 points for Illinois.Her three-goal performance against No. 12-ranked Utah helped Illinois get their first win of the season against a ranked opponent.

    Also receiving honors for Illinois was freshman midfielder Jackie Santacaterina.

    The Geneva, Ill. native joined Nweke on the Big Ten All-Freshmen team. Santacaterina’s ability to win balls in the air has helped dominate offensive possessions.