Soccer’s offense resurges against Xavier



By Steve Contorno

After scoring only three goals total in the season opener and two exhibitions, the Illinois soccer offense busted out five goals on Sunday.

The No. 20 ranked Illini beat Xavier at home 5-0 to even their record to 1-1 on the season.

“We said all along that we can be a dynamic team, and when we’re dynamic, teams would have a hard time staying with all of our movement,” head coach Janet Rayfield said.

For the second straight game, senior forward Ella Masar opened the scoring for the Illini early. On Friday, Masar scored in the first three minutes. Saturday it took a bit longer – Masar scored in the sixth minute.

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The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year took the ball up the far side and dribbled into the middle of the field. Her shot was partially blocked but still had enough on it to roll into the back of the net.

Masar then drew a foul that led to a penalty-kick goal for midfielder Marti Desjarlais to put the Illini up 2-0, but removed herself from the game with soreness in her injured right ankle.

Despite losing its lead scorer, the Illini offense didn’t stop putting pressure on Xavier. Just three minutes after Desjarlais’ goal, defender Emily Zurrer took a ball from midfielder Danielle Kot and headed it into the back of the net from nine yards out.

“With the players that we have and with the different type of movement that we have, we just created a whole lot of scenarios for Xavier to solve,” Rayfield said.

Illinois was able to get its bench plenty of playing time with the comfortable lead, but was still able to keep up the offensive attack. Junior Jessica Levitt scored in the second half to increase the lead to 4-0. Desjarlais sent a pass to the left side of the box where it was served back into the center by freshman Laura Knutson. Levitt headed the ball right past the Xavier keeper.

Levitt, who made the transition from defender to forward in the offseason, had what Rayfield described as “the best game she’s played since she got here.” Levitt said she is happy to do whatever she can to help the team.

“If Janet wants me up front, I’ll play up front. If she wants me in the back, I’ll stay there. If she wants me in goal, I’d be happy to go there,” the 5-foot-3 Levitt said.

Illinois was able to keep the shutout intact despite desperate efforts from the Xavier team. The Lady Musketeers looked to be able to put a notch on the board when they drew a foul in the box, but the penalty kick soared high above the net. It was the second missed penalty kick by an Illini opponent on the weekend.

“Two’s probably all you get; third time’s gonna be a charm,” Rayfield said. “We can’t rely on people missing anymore. We need to be a little more composed and whatnot in the box.”

Senior defender Mary Therese McDonnell said it was important for the defense to come out and rebound from Friday’s 3-1 loss.

“It felt great to be able to come out, especially after Friday’s game didn’t go the way we wanted to,” McDonnell said. “But we tried some things the other day, we kind of regrouped, got the team together, calmed down and figured it out.”

With the first weekend in the books, Rayfield had mixed feelings with the results.

“I’m pleased with where this weekend is taking us,” she said. “I don’t know that pleased with the weekend is right but where this weekend has pointed us and in what direction it’s taking us.”