Illini win 1st round in Big Ten

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team improved their record in first round of Big Ten tournament matches to 8-1 with a 3-0 win over Wisconsin Thursday at University Park, Pa. Senior forward Eva Strickland tallied a goal and an assist to boost the No. 17-ranked Illini over the seventh-seeded Badgers.

“We’ve had a great year so far,” Strickland said. “We’re out to win the whole tournament, but we just need to take it one game at a time. Winning 3-0 is a pretty big statement to start the tournament.”

“Our attack was definitely the story of the game,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “All five of our front-runners worked as a group to make us dangerous. And they helped keep the shutout by taking care of the ball.”

Illinois extended their shutout streak to 386 minutes, spanning their last four games, and kept Wisconsin from establishing an offensive attack throughout the game.

The Badgers only got six shots on goal, none of which were too difficult for junior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens to handle. Sophomore Emily Zurrer said the defensive dominance has been a group effort by the back line.

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“We’ve been playing really well together,” Zurrer said. “We’ve come to a point in the season where things are really coming naturally for us.”

Strickland started the scoring for the Illini in the 24th minute with a goal off a direct kick, a shot into the lower right hand corner of the net. Less than three minutes later, Strickland served a cross into the box and junior Ella Masar headed the ball past the Badger keeper. Strickland said the front three have worked as a group to establish an attack.

“The forwards were really making runs on the net,” Strickland said.

“We had a few chances and we finished most of them. We can score from pretty much anywhere. Off of corners, crossings, breakaways. We got our shots on frame and that’s one of the biggest things we focus on. When we get them on frame, we score goals,” she added.

Freshman forward Chichi Nweke added a goal in the second half to clinch the victory. Sophomore defender Jessica Levitt assisted the goal in her first game back after missing the last three games with a foot injury.

“It’s great to have that kind of depth at this point of the season,” Rayfield said. “For Chichi and Levitt to get that third goal was huge because to be up by three goals really gives us security.”

Friday, the Illini will face the No. 3-seeded Purdue, who beat Ohio State 2-1 in overtime. Illinois beat Purdue 2-0 on Oct. 20 and will need to work hard to stop a strong Boilermaker attack.

Rayfield said forgetting past games will be crucial to taking home the tournament title.

“We’ve talked a lot about this tournament as putting everything behind us,” Rayfield said.

“We know that Purdue will come out strong and try and do some things offensively that our defense will have to focus on because they do have a very talented attack,” she added.