Illini Lacrosse loses home opener against Michigan State

 

 

By Jim Shay

On a cloudy, blustery Saturday afternoon in Urbana, local fans got their first look at this year’s men’s lacrosse team.

The Illini hosted their first on-campus home game of the season against an 18th-ranked Michigan State squad this past weekend in their sixth contest against a top-25 club opponent this year.

With a large gallery of fans lining the sidelines, the Illini looked impressive early but fell to the Spartans 10-8 thanks to a late onslaught of Michigan State goals.

Though the home loss proved disappointing for the team, junior midfielder Andrew Kohl was pleased with the fan turnout.

“It’s real nice to come home and see our fans,” Kohl said. “We had about 200 people come out and it’s the first time this year we’ve heard people cheering our names during the game. It gave us a lot of enthusiasm.”

Goals from sophomore midfielders Rick Valencia and Stephen Black helped erase an early 3-1 deficit, but the Illini were unable to fully capitalize on seven second-quarter penalties committed by the Spartans.

With the score at halftime knotted at 4-4, Black and his teammates looked fluid in their game plan as they stormed into the second half of play and built a 7-5 third-quarter lead. Michigan State, however, had no intention of playing from behind for long, as the Spartans attack, led by senior Brian Baines, connected on five-straight unanswered goals.

Black, who, along with Valencia, led the Illini with two goals on the day, pointed to a lack of focus as the main contributor to the team’s second half collapse.

“I think it was a mental breakdown,” Black said. “We started getting sloppy and making bad passes and Michigan State was able to capitalize on it. They did a good job. They took our heads out of the game and they were able to keep the momentum going through to the end.

“I think our biggest problem was just not getting enough shots and not capitalizing on Michigan State’s penalties.”

Valencia netted his second goal of the game off of a crafty assist from sophomore attackman Joe O’Malley to bring the Illini to within two of the Spartans late in the fourth quarter, but the surge ultimately proved to be too little, too late.

Despite the unfavorable final score, head coach A.J. Stevens offered an optimistic approach to the performance of freshman goalie Eric Rakoczy and the rest of his Illini squad.

“Rakoczy played really well as usual,” Stevens said. “He stepped up for us. We played a great team game, as far as everyone playing together. Everyone played pretty well considering (Michigan State) is a nationally ranked team.”

The Illini capped off a weekend of mixed results with a convincing 8-6 victory over a visiting Indiana squad early Sunday afternoon, and will continue their home stand at the campus recreation fields this Wednesday against Purdue at 7 p.m.