Underclassmen shine as Illini return after 1-1 weekend

 

 

By Lee Ann Sangalang

With the focus in past games on the upperclassmen this season, Illinois soccer benefited most from its underclassmen in the Tennessee Lady Vol Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. this weekend.

The team went 1-1 with a win against Washington State on Friday, before losing its first match of the season to Tennessee on Sunday.

“I think you can look at the results and say it was a meeting for four great teams,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “I think we played as well (Sunday) as we did all season. We wanted to compete and get tested, and I think we got better (Sunday). We created opportunities but unfortunately didn’t finish them.”

No. 15 Illinois (5-1) led the Cougars midway through the first half. Sophomore Laura Knutson sent a pass from the endline to Marissa Mykines, who kicked it into the upper right corner of the goal.

“Marissa had a great weekend,” said Rayfield. “She is really starting to come into her own as a freshman. She played really dangerous and we didn’t capitalize on it (Sunday), but it will help us later.”

The goal against Washington State was the first career goal for Spokane, Wash., native.

“It was good to get that first one,” said Mykines of the goal. “I think I had my good times and my bad times. I hope to be more consistent until everyone knows what to expect from me.”

The Cougars equalized the score shortly after the start of the second half when Mallory Fox completed a penalty kick. The Illini didn’t waste time, and took the lead ten minutes later when sophomore midfielder Cory Steigerwald shot the ball from the top of the box into the lower right corner of the goal, giving Illinois the win.

“I think I started jumping before the ball actually went in,” said Steigerwald. “I really wanted to get it in. I tried to get my knee over it and get it low past the goalie.”

The goal was Steigerwald’s first of the season as well.

“Cory had a tremendous weekend,” said Rayfield. “She was extremely good in the air, which was extremely important in us being successful.”

But the team fell short with a 1-0 loss against host Tennessee, yet came away with two shots on goal by Marti Desjarlais. Goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka saved four shots, only allowing a goal by the Lady Vols’ Julie Edwards midway through the second half.

“I think our defense is improving each game,” said Steigerwald. “Each game we’re learning. Today was the best game we’ve played and it’s disappointing we didn’t pick up the ‘W,’ but it was definitely still a learning game.”

This weekend’s competition marks the last tournament for the Illini until the Big Ten Tournament in November. Rayfield hopes her team will work on its play on the road in the meantime.

“I think the next two weeks are important, especially next weekend on the road,” said Rayfield. “We want to get better every game. (Sunday) we were better, but there is still room to improve. We want to be as solid as we can be when we start Big Ten play, especially because the early part of the Big Ten is on the road. We need to really prepare ourselves, test ourselves in the road environments.”

Fortunately for Illinois, the team has depth on its side. The performance from underclassmen Mykines and Steigerwald this weekend, plus freshman Julie Ewing who has started every match this season, compliments that of upperclassmen seniors Desjarlais and Emily Zurrer, and junior Chichi Nweke, who have made their marks on the season as well.

“We have a lot of players who can contribute in a lot of different ways,” said Rayfield. “We have a lot of experience, and we have some freshmen fighting for time, and we may not have even seen all the potential yet.”

Mykines agrees.

“It’s nice to know to have that depth on the bench,” said Mykines. “It’s good in the long run to have such a good core group, but also underclassmen who contribute as well.

“We raised our game and keep getting better to keep going with our season. Our biggest goal is to keep getting better and better every match.”

Illinois will be on the road in Florida next weekend, first traveling to the University of Florida on Friday, before taking on the Knights of University of Central Florida on Sunday.