Women’s soccer team readies for fall season



By Steve Contorno

The Illinois women’s soccer team will play two exhibitions this weekend in preparation for the 2007 season.

On Friday, the Illini will play Butler at 6 p.m. followed by a preseason match Sunday at 2 p.m. with Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Both matches will be at home.

After a productive offseason and another solid recruiting period, the Illini are anxious to return to the field, senior goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens said.

“We haven’t gotten to play a game for a long time so just to be back here together on campus is awesome and we’re really excited to get back out there,” Carstens said.

Last season, Illinois finished in second place in the Big Ten and won their first two games of the national tournament before falling in the round of sixteen. This year, the Illini return with all but three regular contributors. Included in that returning bunch is Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Ella Masar, Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year Emily Zurrer and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chichi Nweke. Head coach Janet Rayfield said the experience of the group will help the team get over its demanding schedule.

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“We’ve got a little bit more maturity in this team,” Rayfield said. “I think we were a little young last year. We had some freshmen that were playing significant minutes. I would expect us to be a little more prepared.”

Compared to the competition the Illini will face in their non-conference schedule, this weekend’s games will feature two teams Illinois should defeat easily. However, Rayfield said it will be a good gauge of how the team has progressed during the offseason.

“Our goal is to find out where we are and come out healthy. I think those are things you want going into a regular season that is going to be physically and psychologically demanding because of the level of the challenges we’ve put before us,” Rayfield said.

One of the strong points for the Illini last season was their defense. Its success as a group should carry over in 2007 as all three back-line starters and Carstens have returned to the team. The team also has depth at the position and senior defender Mary Therese McDonnell said the chemistry between the group is so strong they’ll be able to work on other things for this weekend’s games.

“Keeping the ball out to the back of the net and not letting shots get off in a certain part of the field is our main focus,” McDonnell said. “We want to work on not allowing uncontested shots.”

The games will also be an opportunity to get playing time to freshmen and some reserves. Rayfield stressed the team wanted to keep its legs fresh heading into the season and see how the it is able to handle an opponent that isn’t itself.

“Our approach right now is to see where we are,” Rayfield said. “We’ve tried to put some tactical things in place and those are hard to work on when the players your playing against know what’s going to happen. I think it’ll be fun for us to see where we are.”

After the spring and summer workouts, Carstens and McDonnell both said this team is ready to step out on the field and begin the season.

“It’s been a long, hard summer but everyone’s prepared from it,” McDonnell said. “It’s been a great preseason and it’s finally coming to and end. So we’re definitely excited to see how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made from the rough preseason.”