Soccer moves to third in conference after two wins

By Steve Contorno

Needing a big lift in the final weekend of the regular season, the Illinois soccer team looked to the foot of senior Ella Masar to kick-start the offense.

She ended up booting the team to third place in the Big Ten.

The Illini (11-5-1, 6-3-1 Big Ten) won back-to-back away games to move ahead of Indiana in the conference after the Hoosiers dropped both of their games on the weekend. Illinois scored three goals in two games, all netted by Masar.

“Ella is an amazing player,” forward Jessica Levitt said. “We always have faith she’s going to finish.”

Coming off Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for her two goals against Indiana last weekend, Masar continued her recent hot streak against Michigan on Friday. In the 40th minute, Levitt stole the ball from the Wolverines and passed it to Masar who split two defenders and scored her ninth goal of the season.

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Ten minutes into the second half, Masar got her second goal of the game to clinch the victory. It was the second time this season she’s scored multiple times in a game.

“The last two weekends, Ella’s really been playing well,” Rayfield said. “This weekend, they weren’t really huge effort goals, they were getting herself in the right position and letting players get the ball to her.

“She’s become the goal scorer.”

Masar netted the game’s only goal against Michigan State on Sunday, scoring off a pass from forward Chichi Nweke. The goal was Masar’s sixth game-winner of the season.

“I give a lot of credit to the team,” Masar said. “They really have been great around me and they’re giving me the opportunity to score.”

Goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens and the team added to their shutout totals with the 2-0 and 1-0 victories. While the defense around Carstens played well Friday, things were different for the team Sunday.

“We didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but we found a way to win,” Rayfield said. “Defensively we weren’t as crisp, but we gutted one out. In the Big Ten, when you’re playing on Sunday on the road, sometimes that’s what it takes.”

The transition from Friday to Sunday has been a difficult one for the Illini at times this season. This weekend wasn’t any different, except for the result.

“There’s only one thing worse than winning ugly and that’s losing pretty,” Masar said. “Today we didn’t have a great first half but we came out and did what we needed to do to win.”

The Illini will have over a week off before the Big Ten tournament begins Nov. 8.

“We get a chance to get our bodies back from the travel weekend and get prepared for the next part of the season,” Levitt said. “We were really stressing how big it was to get two wins from Friday to Sunday and it was good for us to do that before the Big Ten tournament.”