Weather or not, Illini advance to second round

By Steve Contorno

The state of Missouri did all it could on Friday to keep No. 15-ranked Illinois (15-7-0) advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Southeast Missouri State (10-8-2) battled hard against a strong Illini attack and St. Louis produced a thunderstorm that suspended play for over an hour and a half. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop the third seeded Illinois women’s soccer team from their fourth ever first round victory.

“Tonight there were a lot of elements to deal with,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “A lot of credit goes to (South East Missouri State) tonight. They came out and proved they deserved to be in this tournament. They played a great game and posed us a challenge.

“It was some individual efforts on our part, and after the delay a collective effort defensively, to deal with what the players they had. Coming in as a higher seed, you always have to play the elements thought too.”

Rayfield said the team came out over anxious and concerned about the weather conditions, and the lightening delay in the 21st minute actually helped to settle down their nerves. After the break, the Illini were able to establish on offensive attack from their midfielders, who led the Illini to their 2-0 victory. Even though the forwards have scored all but six goals for the Illini this season, it was the rest of the team that tallied points for Illinois.

In the 36th minute, sophomore defender Emily Zurrer served a pass from behind the centerline where it found senior midfielder Paula Faherty’s foot. Faherty, who hasn’t scored a goal since the 2004 NCAA Tournament, hit a shot from 14 yards out that gave Illinois a 1-0 lead. Faherty said the midfielders have been practicing on their play in the offensive third.

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“We’ve been focusing on getting more points and goals out of the midfield and the back,” Faherty said. “Other teams are so concerned about our forwards because of how good they are, that our goals need to start coming from somewhere else.”

Junior forward and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Ella Masar took the game out of the Red Hawks’ reach in the second half. Masar dribbled the ball from center line to the end line and served up a pass that freshman midfield Jackie Santacaterina one-timed into the net from four yards out. The goal was Santacaterina’s second on the season, and Masar’s ninth assist, which tied her for second most in a season.

More than 30 fouls were called in the game, creating a physical match that the Illini saw all to often in 13 Big Ten games. Masar said that Southeast Missouri State was just as tough up and down the field as any team they had seen.

“We got hit just as much (as in the Big Ten games),” Masar said. “(Southeast Missouri State) came out and did a great job. They were physical, and we expected it. So when we got hit, we just had to pop up and keeping going and we did a good job of it.”

Illinois will play host school St. Louis University in the second round of the tournament. The Billikens (15-3-2) took care of Drake (12-5-2) in their game, winning 2-0. St. Louis defeated the Illini 2-1 in double overtime on Sept. 14. Faherty said the team is excited to play St. Louis again and get back that early season loss.

“It would be great to get a second chance at them,” Faherty said.