Defender Kot adds to offense in soccer season opener

This year’s Illinois soccer team wants to tally the most single-season goals in school history. Seven minutes into their season, the Illini’s first goal came from an unlikely source.

Defender Danielle Kot entered her senior campaign having scored just one goal as an Illini, and hadn’t scored since her freshman year.

But despite the Illini captain’s lack of experience putting the ball in the back of the net, the Brookfield, Wis., native was able to give the Orange and Blue a 1-0 lead early into their home opener against Loyola-Chicago on Friday.

On the Illini’s first corner kick opportunity of the season, freshman Vanessa DiBernardo fired the ball toward the goal, where Kot beat a defender to the ball and headed it into the net. DiBernardo added a goal of her own later in the game as Illinois beat the Ramblers 2-0.

“At first, I thought their defender was going to clear my attempt out, but after a few seconds it hit me that it had gone in the back of the net and I had scored,” Kot said.

“I was pretty excited. I hadn’t scored a goal since my freshman year, so to have the first goal of the season makes it so much better.”

Five minutes after Kot put the Illini on the board, DiBernardo scored her first collegiate goal. The Naperville, Ill., native took a touch pass from teammate Jordan Hilbrands, dribbled around the defense and shot successfully toward the lower-right corner of the net.

“With the goal, it was more me concentrating on (the ball) being low and away from the goal,” DiBernardo said. “It was all about concentration and composure.”

Equally impressive to scoring two goals was the shutout Illinois was able to obtain. The Illini allowed at least one goal in both of the team’s two preseason games.

“As a defender, getting the shutout is an equally good feeling as scoring a goal,” Kot said. “You could tell by my celebration that I was happy to score, but getting the shutout is more important.”

Last season, Illinois won its home opener but went on to a 7-8-3 record. However, Kot said this year’s team will not fall into a similar pattern.

“It’s a new team. We got some new up-and-coming freshmen like Vanessa (DiBernardo), who will absolutely change everything,” Kot said. “Our players are ready to make an impact, and that should help us win more games than last year.”