Soccer to put offensive game to test against Missouri in first home match



By Lee Ann Sangalang

The Illinois soccer team depended on its defense last weekend in Missouri, but this weekend the Illini will be switching gears in their home opener against Iowa State in the Illini Challenge Cup on Friday.

Illinois is fresh off a 2-1 victory against Missouri in its season opener and is hoping to continue its record-breaking streak of shutouts at home. The Orange and Blue finished their 2007 campaign with seven straight shutouts at Illinois Soccer Stadium, which included six Big Ten foes.

“We’re going to look at this game with the mentality just like any other home game. We want to defend our home turf,” head coach Janet Rayfield said.

The Illini, who moved to No. 18 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, will look to their offensive weapons this weekend after holding Missouri to just one goal last weekend. Junior forward Chichi Nweke scored the game-winning goal against the Tigers in overtime, while also assisting Marti Desjarlais on the goal that put the Illini on top early on.

“Missouri exposed a lot of things we need to fix,” Rayfield said. “We’d been focusing on our defense, but now, we’re starting to make some adjustments, coordinate offensively and ultimately take care of things on our side of the ball.”

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    Senior defender Jamie Alvis earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and was listed in Soccer America’s Team of the Week after her performance in last weekend’s win.

    “Jamie’s one of those players that has always played well, always been there, always trains, and she really stepped in for us with Emily (Zurrer) gone,” Rayfield said. “We needed her last weekend. We’re going to look to her leadership still even when we have Emily back this weekend. Jess Levitt and Marti stepped up as well.”

    Meanwhile, Iowa State is opening its season in Champaign. Although the Illini lead the all-time series 2-0, the Cyclones may pose a challenge for Illinois. Iowa State went undefeated and did not allow a goal in its two preseason games. The Cyclones return 17 players from last year’s squad, including seven starters and two All-Big 12 selections in Elise Reid and Jordan Bishop. The team also has an extra incentive to do well at the tournament – wins in both of the tournament matches will give the program its 100th win.

    Illini junior goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka is slated to make her second career start against the Cyclones.

    Meanwhile, Emily Zurrer returns to the Illini after spending the summer with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Canadian Women’s National team at the Olympic Games. Zurrer also grabbed a spot on the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy Watch List for the top female Division I soccer player for the second straight year.

    To complement all of these upperclassmen, the Class of 2012 will most likely see significant playing time this weekend. Defender Julie Ewing started in both the exhibition game against Xavier, as well as against the Tigers. Caitlin Dombart also helped anchor the Illinois defense, while Marissa Mykines took charge offensively with five shots at the goal.

    Depending on the outcome against Iowa State, the Illini will play in either the consolation game at 11 a.m. or the championship game at 2 p.m. on Sunday.