Arduous 2008 schedule promises to challenge Illinois soccer

By Meghan Montemurro

The Illinois soccer team will have no shortage of tough opponents this season. The Illini’s schedule features eight 2007 NCAA Tournament teams which includes five teams that were nationally ranked at season’s end, head coach Janet Rayfield announced Friday.

“Once again we are trying to challenge ourselves with our non-conference schedule, and I think we face an especially tough road schedule prior to the Big Ten season,” Rayfield said in a press release. “We will test our team with their ability to compete away from home on successive weekends and that will be great preparation for the Big Ten and for postseason.”

The Orange and Blue open the season on the road against Missouri on Aug. 23 before welcoming Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Dayton to the Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium for the Illini Challenge Cup presented by Gameday Spirit. The Cyclones face Illinois in the first round which begins Aug. 29, with the winner advancing to the championship game. The two losing squads will play in a consolation game. The First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic in Knoxville, Tenn., welcomes the Illini Sept. 5 where they will face Washington State and West Virginia. The Mountaineers advanced to the Elite 8 in the 2007 NCAA Tournament before falling to USC, the eventual national champions.

Illinois faces a tough game at Florida in a rematch of last year’s contest, when the Illini took down the then-No. 9 ranked Gators 1-0 at home. The non-conference schedule concludes with a road game at UCF before finishing at home against Colorado College and Washington. The Illini, attempting to qualify for their 11th straight Big Ten Tournament appearance and sixth straight NCAA Tournament berth, open the Big Ten season on the road at Wisconsin and Northwestern before returning home to face Michigan State and Michigan.

“Our home schedule is exciting this year especially with the Big Ten teams that will be coming to town,” Rayfield said. “The Big Ten season always comes down to the final weekends and to have Penn State, Ohio State and Purdue at home those last two weekends could mean incredible excitement for our fans. We hope we build that excitement throughout the season and end the year with some of the largest crowds in Big Ten women’s soccer.”

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Illinois will hit the road for a three-game stretch at Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana and concludes the season at home against Penn State, Ohio State and Purdue. The last four games feature teams that qualified for the 2007 NCAA Tournament.