Soccer gets swept on the weekend with two loses

The Illinois soccer team had an opportunity to gain some serious ground in the Big Ten standings last weekend with matches at Purdue and Indiana. But with loses against both opponents, the Illini have made it more difficult on themselves to stay in the mix during a tough conference season.

The Illini were again undermanned as senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo did not appear at all this weekend on the field.

On Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue struck early with a shot from about 18 yards out by forward Maddy Williams. The ball went off freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley’s hands but landed in the net for the 1-0 Boilermakers lead.

That was all the scoring action on the evening. Very little offensive output was seen at all. Purdue held the slight 14-13 lead in shots taken. Junior forward Jannelle Flaws took six shots, with four of those on-goal.

“They really put us under pressure,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We like to keep the ball. We’re not just going to whack it over the top of you. So they were making sure any short passé we made, there was someone there. We didn’t deal extremely well with the pressure.”

The Illini were in Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday to take on Indiana in rainy and sloppy conditions. With weather conditions being less than desirable, field conditions were especially bad with puddles all over the field.

“One thing as a forward is to always follow up on shots,” Flaws said. “Because with conditions like this the ball tends to skip and give up rebounds.”

Illinois was able to take advantage of the conditions in the third minute when Indiana goalkeeper Shannon Flower could not handle a shot by senior forward Megan Pawloski. The ball rolled away, and Flaws tapped it in for the 1-0 lead and her 13th goal of the season.

The Hoosiers remained aggressive and kept the Illini offense in check for the remainder of the half. Indiana was finally able to break through offensively in the 41st, when a cross from midfielder Kayleigh Steigerwalt connected with the head of midfielder Jordan Woolums to tie the match 1-1.

Indiana remained hot as it opened the second half with a strike from Steigerwalt in the 49th minute, which went past Wheatley for the 2-1 advantage. Just four minutes later, Woolums found the back of the net again as she broke free on the right side of the box and blasted it in over Wheatley in the top corner of the goal to make it 3-1.

Illinois continued to struggle offensively as few dangerous attacks were mounted. Even shots were hard to come by, as Indiana outshot the Illini 17-7. Illinois also suffered an 11-0 disadvantage in corner kick opportunities.

The Illinois defense was tired on Sunday after having to defend a lot on Friday, which factored into Indiana’s offensive success.

“I think we came out with some pretty good energy given the fact that it was a Sunday on the road in the rain,” senior defender Kassidy Brown said. “But maybe it was just the first 20 minutes that was super high energy.”

The match seemed to be all but over if it were not for an impressive long-range strike from Brown in the 86th minute to make it 3-2. Junior midfielder Noelle Leary set up the shot near the right corner of the Indiana box, and Brown converted for her first goal of the season.

With the two defeats, Illinois drops to 6-5-2 overall and 1-3-1 in the Big Ten.

“It was a tough weekend for us,” Rayfield said. “I think the fight was there, but the execution and the confidence that comes from that wasn’t. We fought hard. A lot of players gave everything they had … but we didn’t execute and I think when you’re not executing then you start to doubt, and that makes it a challenge.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @AlexOrtiz2334.