Soccer looks to keep up momentum

By Steve Contorno

The Illinois soccer team hasn’t lost to Northwestern since 2000 or Wisconsin since 2003, but that doesn’t mean the Illini will take either team lightly when they come to town this weekend.

“We’ve got to be really ready to go after two talented Big Ten opponents that obviously are coming off of a good weekend,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “That seems like what we face every weekend in the Big Ten.”

Following back-to-back victories last weekend, including a 6-0 rout of Iowa, Illinois (7-4-0, 2-2 Big Ten) has found its way back to .500 in the Big Ten. With two home games coming up against opponents that have struggled on the road, Illinois could jump out to 4-2 in the conference and get back on track toward winning a Big Ten title.

But even with a 4-1 home record, Rayfield insisted that any Big Ten team can win on any day.

“In this league right now, it takes 90 minutes of persistence offensively and focus defensively and whichever teams can be mentally plugged in are the teams that will be successful,” Rayfield said.

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Still, the prospect of playing at home where the Illini have had success has Rayfield’s squad excited.

“It’s great at home just to have the fans behind us and not have to travel because that obviously wears you out,” sophomore midfielder Courtney Bell said. “We love our field so it’s always fun to play at home.”

Bell, along with the rest of the Illini offense, had a breakout game on Sunday, scoring two of the team’s six goals. Bell’s tallies also contributed to the four scored by just the midfielders.

“I love scoring goals so it was good to finally get those in. It was a weight off my back,” Bell said. “We’ve been getting a lot of points from the midfield with assists and goals last weekend. We just want to get involved in the attack and take some pressure off the forwards so we can be dangerous from a whole bunch of areas on the field.”

Overlooked in the offensive barrage was the team’s sixth shutout of the season.

With three seniors in the back, including goalkeeper and Big Ten Player of the Week Lindsey Carstens, and a freshman – Danielle Kot – starting to gel, the defense has rebounded from some early season breakdowns.

“Coming off the first weekend, when we felt those were games we shouldn’t have dropped, and then to bounce back last weekend with two wins I think that was really good for our confidence,” defender Emily Zurrer said. “We can be one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten and we have to keep proving it every weekend.”

With another loss possibly pushing the Illini out of reach of a regular season conference title, every win from this point on is important.

“We have to do well; the pressure is on,” Bell said. “We want to go undefeated the rest of the Big Ten season so we can set ourselves up for the Big Ten tournament and the NCAAs at the end of the season.”