Illinois soccer nets crucial win on senior night

 

 

By Cody Westerlund

Playing its senior night on Halloween, the Illinois soccer team did not need any type of costume. The way they play at home, the Illini only needed to go as themselves.

Illinois continued its dominance at home Friday night, defeating Purdue 1-0. With the win, the Illini are unbeaten in 15 of their last 16 games in Champaign.

The victory was critical for several reasons. It sent five seniors out in style, moved Illinois (11-8-0, 5-5-0 in Big Ten) back to .500 in conference play, wrapped up the fifth seed in the Big Ten Tournament and bolstered its NCAA tournament chances.

“At this point in the season, every win was an important one for us,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “To get to .500 in the conference, you know it’s not where we wanted to finish, but we had to fight just to get to this point. So we’re happy to be here.”

Senior defender Emily Zurrer’s headed in a corner kick midway through the first half providing the game’s lone goal. Fellow senior Marti Desjarlais served a ball to the far side, where Zurrer found some space, out-jumped the Boilermaker defense and drove the ball back into the near side of the net.

“It was funny because as soon as I hit that ball, I had this weird feeling that she was going to score,” Desjarlais said. “Then she drove it home. It was just perfect timing.”

On a night when all five seniors started, it was only fitting that two of them combined for the goal. Even better was that Zurrer personified the work ethic on the goal that has defined the class for the last four years. The Olympian and four-year starter won the corner kick by hustling past a Boilermaker, controlling the ball and then kicking it off the defender.

The game was more action packed than the final scored indicated. The teams combined for 29 shots, with Purdue (11-6-3, 5-3-2) outshooting the Illini 16-13. The Boilermakers upped the ante in the second half by switching to a 3-4-3 formation after the intermission. Moving a defender up to midfield gave both teams better scoring opportunities and caused the action to switch sides of the field quickly. The Illinois defense held strong though, as it did not give up any dangerous corner kick chances in the second half and goalie Alexandra Kapicka made five saves in the contest.

“They started to make it a 50-50 battle,” Rayfield said of the second half. “Their pressure in the midfield and up front, we had to weather that storm. I thought our back line did a great job of winning those 50-50s. It was almost more like a ping-pong match.”

With the win, the Illini tied for fifth place in the Big Ten and will play a Michigan State team next weekend in the conference tournament that they beat earlier this year 3-0 at home. But the Illini still need to perform well to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.

“To not leave it to chance, we just have to make it as far as we can in the Big Ten,” Zurrer said.