Kansas, Indiana State prove no match for surging Illinois

Ella Masar dribbles up field against Florida at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Sept. 14. Masar and the Illini wrapped up their nonconference schedule over the weekend with two victories. Laura Prusik

The Daily Illini

Ella Masar dribbles up field against Florida at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Sept. 14. Masar and the Illini wrapped up their nonconference schedule over the weekend with two victories. Laura Prusik

By Steve Contorno

The Illini soccer team racked up two victories during an odd road trip to move to 5-2-0 on the season. Illinois defeated Kansas 2-1 on Friday and Indiana State 3-0 on Sunday and has now won four in a row to complete a difficult nonconference season.

“It was important to experience these tough situations on the road,” head coach Janet Rayfield. “Sometimes you have games like last Friday against Florida, but these two we grinded out, which we’ll need in the Big Ten season, so it’ll help us in that respect.”

In Friday’s matchup with Kansas (1-6-1), the Illini battled the Jayhawks to a stalemate for the majority of the first half. However, with under five minutes to go in the period, junior defender Emily Zurrer took a cross from sophomore midfielder Courtney Bell and headed the ball into the back of the net. The goal was Zurrer’s third of the season.

After the break at the half, Illinois scored what would be the game-winning goal on a breakaway by sophomore Chichi Nweke. The goal was Nweke’s first of her follow-up campaign to her Big Ten Freshman of the Year season in which she scored eight goals.

Kansas brought the game within one with a goal in the 81st minute, scoring on sophomore goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka, who replaced senior Lindsey Carstens. Carstens, who has started every game this season, was removed from the contest after a collision. She did, though, come back to claim the shutout against Indiana State (4-6-0) on Sunday, her fourth of the season.

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In Sunday’s contest, the Illini scored early on the Sycamores, going up 1-0 on a goal by senior forward Ella Masar just two minutes, 56 seconds into the game. The Urbana native would later add an assist to increase her team leading points total to 12, just 15 points shy of the 27 points in 2006 that resulted in her Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award. Masar praised her teammates for the scoring opportunities.

“It’s all their work,” Masar said. “I did a lot of work this summer to get ready for this season, but we’re doing a lot of things as a team to score. Everyone from the midfielders to the backs are causing offensive pressure. We’re combining greatly and goals will come for everybody.”

And they did against Indiana State. Junior midfielder Marti Desjarlais added her second goal of the season in the 18th minute, and sophomore midfielder Jackie Santacaterina added a goal off of Masar’s assist in the 70th minute.

“Ella learned this summer how to impact the team without always having to put the game on her shoulders,” Rayfield said. “She can impact the team by just being a threat and being dangerous to draw coverage and give other people the advantage.”

Rayfield said the team didn’t keep up as much offensive pressure as she would have liked after scoring two goals early but was still content with the squad’s performance.

“When we score early we tend to hold back a little,” Rayfield said. “It shows that we have the ability to score early, which is good, but we might have relaxed too much. But heading into the Big Ten season starting well is always good.”

That Big Ten season begins next Friday against Ohio State. Masar said that the team’s tough nonconference schedule has it ready for conference play.

“The schedule we played brings us experience,” Masar said. “We played some of the best teams in the country, we played teams that had players on national teams. We’ve done everything from traveling and winning to winning at home just so we have the experience to face anyone.”

Rayfield shared that sentiment.

“We played this tough schedule for a reason,” Rayfield said. “We’ve seen a lot of styles and looks … We got out of this schedule what we wanted and that is to be prepared for anything the Big Ten throws at us.”