Soccer team opens Big Ten with losses

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois soccer team opened the Big Ten season on the wrong foot, losing both of its games over the weekend. The Illini fell to unranked Ohio State in double overtime on Friday and then dropped their match against No. 13 Penn State on Sunday.

The two losses put the Illini at 5-4 on the season and give them an 0-2 record in Big Ten for the first time since head coach Janet Rayfield took over the program in 2002.

The Illini only dropped two games the entire Big Ten season in 2006 to finish 8-2. Rayfield said last week that she thought it would take seven or eight wins to take the Big Ten season title. That task looks more difficult following this weekend, but Rayfield was able to take away positives from the games.

“We’ve got to come out of this weekend confident that we just out-shot two of the top teams in the Big Ten,” Rayfield said in a press release. “We’ve got some things to fix, but we played some really good soccer this weekend.”

In Friday’s match, the Illini faced a Buckeye team that had gone undefeated at home to start the season. Ohio State came out and scored on a rebound after Buckeye forward Alex Burzynski directed a shot that hit the goalpost and bounced into the net. Illinois tied the match in the second half on freshman Laura Knutson’s fourth goal of the season, but lost the decision when Ohio State forward Laura Collison scored in the 108th minute.

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Illinois wasn’t able to rebound from the loss on Sunday against the Nittany Lions.

“We like the soccer that we’re playing, we just have to turn it up from a mentality standpoint,” Rayfield said. “Knowing we can play Friday and Sunday, while our opponents just have one game, and still have what we need to compete was good to find out.”

The Illini gave up the first goal early again in Sunday’s game, but this time weren’t able to counter with a goal of their own until Penn State had gone up 2-0. Freshman Danielle Kot scored her first goal of the season on a header off a corner kick from Courtney Bell early in the second half to make it 2-1, but the Illini couldn’t create enough offense down the stretch to tie the game.

“We’re still creating chances, we just have to finish some of those chances,” Rayfield said. “If we can finish more of those, the game will change because you play a different game when you’re in the lead versus playing from behind.”

The Illinois offense got a scare when senior forward Ella Masar went down with an undisclosed injury and was out for the remainder of the half. Masar returned in the second half but was in obvious pain. Her status will be reevaluated this week.

The Illini will attempt to get back on track in the Big Ten next Friday when they play a pair of conference games against Minnesota and Iowa.