Illinois women’s soccer splits on opening weekend of Big Ten play

By Cody Westerlund

In soccer, unlike most other sports, a team can win a game in the early going. The No. 17 Illinois women’s soccer team proved that twice this weekend.

After jumping out to a two-goal first half lead en route to a 2-1 win against Wisconsin on Friday night, the tables were turned against the Illini on Sunday as they allowed a goal midway through the first half to Northwestern and fell 1-0.

The Wildcats’ Jeanette Lorme found the net in the first half Sunday on what head coach Janet Rayfield called a “defensive mental lapse,” when the Illini defense was late in defending the short side on a corner kick.

Illinois picked up the intensity in the second half, outshooting the Wildcats 12-4 and winning seven corner kicks. Rayfield said the team felt like a goal was coming soon, and it almost had one late in the game before the Wildcats’ goalkeeper stopped a shot on the goal line.

“We dominated the second half with a greater sense of urgency and a greater mentality,” Rayfield said. “You can’t only fight when your back is up against the wall. You got to fight when the game starts, and I think that’s a lesson we’ll have to take from this game.”

Against Wisconsin, Marti Desjarlais scored early off an assist from Jessica Levitt. Later in the first half, Levitt scored her second goal of the year by knocking in a rebound. The early advantage proved critical when the Badgers scored in the opening minute of the second half. “We finished a couple of chances early against Wisconsin and that changes the demeanor of the game,” Rayfield said. “We didn’t battle as well in the second half against Wisconsin as we should have, but we had finished some opportunities in the first half.

Northwestern did that against us, it was sort of the reverse. It puts us under the gun.”

Ironically, Illinois had a corner kick deficit of 10-3 in its win over the Badgers, and a 10-3 advantage in its loss to Northwestern. One key to the Illini win over the Badgers was defending so well against the corner kicks.

“We made sure we were extremely organized in the box,” senior defender Jamie Alvis said. “We did everything we could to communicate to everybody on the field who was marking who, and keeping corner kicks organized was a huge issue.”

But on Sunday, Illinois failed to capitalize on the corner kick and shooting advantage.

Only six of its 19 shots were on goal, and it could not find the net against what Rayfield described as a very organized defense.

“The difference was in the eighteen-yard boxes,” sophomore midfielder Cory Steigerwald said. “Friday night we were able to finish our chances in the box. (Sunday) we couldn’t find the back of the net. The ball really didn’t bounce our way.”

With the split last weekend, Illinois (7-4) sits at 1-1 in the Big Ten. Friday it hosts Michigan State, which sits atop the Big Ten with a 2-0 conference record.

“It’s not the best, it’s not the worst,” Rayfield said of the team’s conference-opening split.

“It’s not where we’d like to be, but it’s where we are. We have to defend our home turf.”