Mykines’ weekend goals spark Illini offense

At 5-foot-3, Illinois soccer senior forward Marissa Mykines might not look like the most intimidating player on the field.

“I mean, yeah, I guess I’m not the tallest or maybe strongest player out there, it looks like, at least,” Mykines said.

But height and strength don’t seem to matter when you can strike a ball like this speedy forward can.

“She hits the ball with an incredible amount of power,” Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said.

“When she hits a ball on frame it makes the goalkeeper’s life miserable because it doesn’t have a lot of spin on it to read,” Rayfield said. “It knuckles like a knuckleball in baseball. It moves, so for goalkeepers, it’s a really difficult shot to save.”

This power was on display in Illinois’ last two games as Mykines sparked the Illini offense, scoring a pair of opening goals against Northwestern and Nebraska.

The Illini, who struggled earlier in the season at the beginning of games, leaned on Mykines, who scored both goals within the first 30 minutes of action. The Illini would go on to beat Northwestern 3-0 and Nebraska 3-1, garnering their sixth and seventh straight wins. The Illini are now 11-0-0 when scoring first.

“They were goals that came early, put us on the board, put the other team on their heels. … Both of them were great goals well-struck from outside,” Rayfield said. “They really put the pressure on the other team then to have to respond to that.”

The Spokane, Wash., native tallied the game-winner on Illinois’ first shot of the game Thursday night against Northwestern in the 26th minute. From outside the box, Mykines struck a ball into the top left of the goal, out of reach of the Wildcats keeper.

“It’s really good to get goals early off the bat,” Mykines said.

“Obviously, it helps boost your confidence, and I feel like we do a better job of putting the second, third and fourth goals in after we get that one.”

The offense leads the Big Ten in shots per game (18.39) and ranks second in the conference in goals (18), but had struggled entering play last week, tallying just four goals in the last four games. Mykines’ early goals kick-started the offense, which found the net six times on its road trip.

Mykines scored her seventh goal of the season Sunday as she placed a ball behind the Nebraska goalkeeper in the 29th minute. Shayla Mutz threw the ball to Mykines, who put a 25-yard strike into the top left corner of the net.

“You got to make them think you’re dangerous from outside,” Mykines said. “When I took my couple hits in both games, I just had good contact and kind of dropped them in over top, and I think I kind of maybe caught the goalies off guard a little bit.”

Mykines’ two goals last week propelled her to second on the team in goals scored this season behind sophomore Vanessa DiBernardo. Mykines, who has played in nearly every game in her time with the Illini, had just six total goals entering this season. She now has 13.

“I think last year she was striking the ball really well, but the accuracy and that wasn’t there,” Rayfield said. “Now we have the combination of an extreme amount of power and the balls moves because of the way she strikes it, and she’s getting them on frame.”

Despite starting every game, Mykines went scoreless in her junior year.

“With any shooter, with anyone, it’s a little bit of confidence,” Rayfield said. “She has worked on it, and her accuracy is so much better. And then she is confident, so now she strikes the ball with confidence and that makes her even more accurate.

“Like a hitter in a slump, you have to find your sweet spot, and I think she found that this year. She found a spot and realized that she can put a ball on frame, and now when she strikes a ball, there is not a hesitation; there is a confidence that the ball is going to go on frame and that it probably, if it gets on frame, is going in to the back of the net.”