Soccer splits final 2 road games of season

When Vanessa DiBernardo scored in Friday’s match against Michigan State (9-5-4, 3-3-3 Big Ten) it was the first time since Oct. 3 that the Illinois soccer team had scored first in a game. The freshman scored that goal too. This time, DiBernardo’s goal was all Illinois (12-4-1, 5-3-1 Big Ten) needed, as the Orange and Blue defeated the Spartans 1-0. DiBernardo’s goal was her 11th goal of the season, increasing her Big Ten-leading points to a total of 25.

“If you can get an early goal, especially on the road, it gets the other team on its heels,” Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. “It’s good that we were able to capitalize on the opportunity. It made the difference in the game.”

Junior Marissa Mykines took Illinois’ first corner kick of the game in the fourth minute, and served the ball to sophomore Niki Read. The sophomore’s shot ricocheted off the hands of Michiga`n State goalkeeper Jill Fliestra and was recovered by DiBernardo, who found the lower-left corner the goal, giving the Illini the 1-0 lead.

“It was great because we were able to score on the restart,” Rayfield said. “Something we’ve been working on a lot in practice is making restarts effective and capitalizing on them although we had several chances in the game to extend the score, one ended up being enough.”

Illinois had possession of the ball for much of the first half, stringing passes together to keep pressure on Michigan State’s defense. As the half went on, Michigan State threatened the Illinois defense more often.

Offensively, the Illini had many scoring chances from around the box, but impressive play by Fliestra limited the Illini’s goal total to just one.

At the half, Illinois led Michigan State in shots (9-3) and corner kick opportunities (2-1).

The second half featured a new goalie for Michigan State. Fliestra was pulled for redshirt junior Elizabeth Watza after playing in the first half with a broken finger.

The second half was more evenly played. While the Illini took more shots than Michigan State, the Spartans increased their physical play in the second half to keep the period scoreless, giving Illinois the victory 1-0.

The Illini were not as successful against Michigan (10-3-4, 5-2) on Sunday. The Orange and Blue lost to the Maize and Blue 3-2.

This time, the Illini did not score until Michigan had already taken a 2-0 lead.

Senior Laura Knutson scored her first goal of the season in the 74th minute off a header to cut the deficit to one goal. Mykines once again aided in Illinois scoring with a successful corner kick. Mykines crossed the ball into the Michigan box, where Knutson headed the ball off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.

“It was a big rallying moment at the time,” Knutson said. “The goal was a big momentum changer for us. We thought we could come back with the win.”

Mykines said Michigan’s style of play did not favor the Illini. Known for their speed and physicality, the Wolverines play a high-intensity brand of soccer. Michigan also leads the Big Ten in most yellow cards accumulated.

“We had a real hard time trying to handle their pressure,” Mykines said. “Michigan is extremely physical. We had to get into a rhythm and try not to worry about it but we weren’t able to.”

Freshman Megan Pawloski scored for the Illini as well in the 88th minute, but Michigan had already scored another of its own.

“If you look at the weekend, there was a lot more time and space to play Friday night,” Rayfield said. “We played very well and with a lot more pressure, making good decisions with the ball on Friday and not (Sunday), and that was the difference in the outcome.”