Soccer loses to Indiana in first round of Big Ten Tournament

By Alex Ortiz

The usual was not enough for the Illinois soccer team this time. Even though the Illini had been matched up with Indiana before and this time they had the home advantage, the Orange and Blue lost 5-3.

A sloppy first half buried Illinois in an early hole. The Hoosiers did well to take advantage of Illinois’ mistakes throughout the game. Despite a 22-11 advantage in shots, Illinois’ dangerous offense proved inefficient.

“We can’t let five goals in,” senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo said. “That’s never acceptable.”

Indiana took advantage of Illinois’ lack of sharpness. The first goal was scored in the 6th minute when Indiana played it short form a corner kick. Midfielder Lisa Nouanesengsy ran to space in front of the left corner of the box and fired to the far side of the net. Freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley was out of position, and the Hoosiers were up 1-0.

DiBernardo checked into the game and the passing game appeared to improve. She was sprinting well on the sprained knee on which she still had a large brace.

But Indiana struck again, this time from long range, with defender Tori Keller scoring with 13 minutes left in the first half to make it 2-0.

Indiana scored its third goal off a series of failed clearances by the Illinois defense in the box. Forward Rebecca Candler put it past Wheatley at point-blank range in the 38th minute.  

“Everything was just like one step too late, defending,” senior midfielder Kassidy Brown said. “And that kind of put us on our heels.”

Just minutes into the second half, Illinois came out with more energy and had a few solid possessions. Sophomore midfielder Nicole Breece was dribbling just inside the box and went down. DiBernardo converted the ensuing penalty kick in the 52nd minute to make it 3-1.

But the Hoosiers regained a commanding lead with another goal. Midfielder Monica Melink headed the ball from a cross into the box.

Indiana seemed to put the dagger in with a goal from about midfield, by defender Lara Ross, which bounced over the head of freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley in the 74th minute.

“It just really wasn’t a good night for us defensively,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “No one really had the kind of night we needed them to have in the back.”

But the Illini still had some fight in them.

Junior forward Jannelle Flaws finally converted in the 75th minute with an unassisted goal from the right side of the box to make it 5-2. DiBernardo, Flaws and Breece were all working well together throughout the second half.

Brown got it down to 5-3 with a header off a free kick in the 83rd minute.

But the comeback hopes would end there. Indiana fouled Illinois repeatedly which ate time and frustrated the Illini.

Indiana will advance along with Iowa, Penn State and Nebraska to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The NCAA Tournament hopes for Illinois are far from certain. The team is hoping that a competitive Big Ten season will help them advance, but that will be up to the selection committee. The Big Ten Tournament will conclude on Nov. 10 and Illinois should know if its season is over next week.

“We’ve beaten some good teams,” Rayfield said. “We’ve beaten some good teams. We’ve beaten some teams that are going to be in that mix so those are the types of things that you have to look at.”

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