Shootout gives soccer big victory

By Steve Contorno

The most exciting spectacle in soccer – a sudden-death shootout – decided Thursday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament between Illinois and Minnesota. With everything on the line, Illini goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens saved the shot of Minnesota’s Julie Rezac to begin the second round of shooting.

It ended on the next shot, the same way the scoring had started: a goal from defender Kara Gostisha.

The goal gave the No. 3-seeded Illini the victory over the sixth-seeded tournament host Golden Gophers. The Illini will advance to the second round of the tournament and face No. 2-seeded Purdue, who beat Illinois earlier this season, in the semifinals.

“This is a new step for this team,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “I’m not sure we’ve even come back from behind this season. That’s a huge step for us to make.”

A 2-2 tie in regulation forced both teams into overtime. After jumping out to an early lead, the Illini were facing a 2-1 deficit late in the second half. With about four minutes remaining and elimination staring her team in the face, defender Emily Zurrer tied the game on a pass from midfielder Courtney Bell for her fourth goal of the season.

“We knew it was going to be a persistent battle,” Rayfield said. “Facing the host school and a lower seed team, we knew the energy was going to be up and down. But we fought through it. We stepped up when we needed to, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Illinois was faced with more adversity than just being down a goal. Ella Masar, the team’s top scorer, left the game with a pulled hamstring, and Carstens took a cleat in the face that forced her to miss time in both halves. Play had resumed as she was getting stitches in the locker room.

But Zurrer’s goal sent the game through two scoreless overtimes and then to the shootout. Both teams scored three goals in the first shootout before it went to sudden death and Gostisha’s game-winner.

Gostisha opened the scoring with a goal in the first half, also assisted by Bell.

Carstens had four saves to go along with her three stops in the shootout. Her counterpart was tested much more often by the Illini offense, posting nine saves.

Carstens should be ready to play Friday’s game, but Masar is doubtful.

“We gotta think about a NCAA bid and what (Masar) means to that at this point,” Rayfield said.