Depth to carry Illini in Florida

 

 

By Lee Ann Sangalang

With a 5-1 start, the Illinois soccer team has had a successful 2008 campaign thus far due to its depth on the bench. The Illini will once again test its depth against the University of Florida on Friday, expecting contributions from all over their roster.

“One of our goals was to get that depth on the bench this season,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “Games we’ve had big contributions from the bench are the games we’ve been the most successful.”

In just six games, Illinois has goals from eight different players. Half of those goals have been from players off the bench, while all goals have been from across the classes — three goals were from seniors, three goals were from juniors, one from a sophomore and one from a freshman.

The No. 18 Illini will face the No. 17 Gators, a deep team themselves, in a tight battle. The Orange and Blue took the contest last year in Champaign and lead the all-time series, 2-0. However, Florida (3-1-1) is fresh off of a shutout of No. 4 Florida State last Sunday. The Gators’ freshman standout, Tahnai Annis, notched the lone goal. In addition to Annis, Illinois will also have to be on the lookout for Ameera Abdullah, Ashlee Elliot and Lauren Hyde, all voted by league coaches in the preseason to the All-Southeastern Conference team. Florida is also projected to repeat its performance as SEC champions for the 2008 season.

“(Calling Florida) a formidable opponent would be an understatement,” said Rayfield. “They knocked off the No. 4 ranked team last Sunday. They will be another tough road test.”

Two Illinois players earned honors this week. Junior midfielder Jackie Santacaterina was named to Top Drawer Soccer’s Team of the Week after last weekend’s tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. Santacaterina is the third Illini to be selected for the Team of the Week this season, joining Jamie Alvis and Emily Zurrer.

“It was a little unexpected,” Santacaterina said. “It was a good tournament for all of us, so it was really exciting.”

Santacaterina was also named to the all-tournament team last weekend at the First Tennesssee Lady Vol Classic, with junior goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka. Kapicka had eight saves during the tournament, and has turned away 10 shots of the 14 attempted.

“It was great,” Kapicka said of the accomplishment. “But ultimately, barely allowing any shots on goal was not just about me. It was about 10 other players on the field not allowing (the other team) to get there. I may have gotten the honor, but it was an honor for the whole team.”

Kapicka will go head-to-head with the Gators’ sophomore Katie Fraine. The Gator goalkeeper has her set of accomplishments as well. Fraine had a career-high seven saves in the Florida State upset alone.

After the Gators on Friday, the Illini will continue their road trip to Orlando, Fla., to take on the University of Central Florida. Illinois will have to be on the lookout for junior Becca Thomas, who scored a goal in each of the team’s three matches last weekend. The Knights’ (3-1-1) freshman goalkeeper, Aline Reis, came away with her third career shutout against Golden State and 15 saves last weekend, which earned her Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.

But the team’s main focus this weekend remains on the Gators.

“Florida will be one of those teams that will be in the top 25 at the end of the season,” Rayfield said. “Our performance against these types of teams now, will come into play later.”