Soccer advances to Sweet 16 with 4-3 overtime win

By Alex Ortiz

The Illinois soccer team is fighting for its life.

After falling into a 2-0 hole in the first half against No. 7 Portland on Friday, the Illinois offense turned it up. Senior midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo and junior forward Jannelle Flaws went off and spearheaded the offensive barrage.

“We were having our share of the possession,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “And just couldn’t quite make that final pass.”

Early on, the offense was not only missing out on converting goals, but it also made mistakes leading to turnovers. Rayfield said the defense did not play poorly, despite allowing three goals. The goals were just a result of the early offensive struggles.

“I think we just weren’t hitting the ball as we would like to finish balls,” Flaws said. “And they have a great goalkeeper. She made some great saves throughout the game.”

But the offense ultimately caught fire. Illinois attempted 22 shots, eight of them on-goal. The defense allowed just 11 total shots. Freshman goalkeeper Claire Wheatley made six saves.

The comeback began in the 54th minute when DiBernardo scored an unassisted goal from the left top of the box. Rayfield said her presence in the last few matches has enhanced an already dangerous attack.

“I think just as a team, we knew that we were playing well, and we were getting chances,” DiBernardo said. “It was just a matter of when we were going to put those chances away.”

Like so many times this season, the Illini kept encouraging each other to keep trying because eventually good things would happen.

After Portland scored again in the 59th minute, Illinois kept posing dangerous attacks, which made Portland jump. Flaws and DiBernardo were fouled inside the box and were able to convert their chances in the 69th and 84th minutes, respectively.

The 3-3 match headed into sudden death overtime, the sixth overtime match this season for the Illini.

Nine minutes into the first overtime, Portland made its fatal mistake. Following a freekick for the Pilots, a miscommunication resulted in senior forward Megan Pawloski stealing the ball away. She began running down the flank and drew defenders.

Flaws saw the opportunity and began to make her run. She got herself in position for Pawloski to make the cross, where Pawloski found Flaws in the box. Flaws converted her 23rd goal of the season. And for the second straight game, the Illini mobbed each other on the field to celebrate another gritty, hard-fought win.

The Illini advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in program history.

Up next, Illinois will play Boston College, again in Lincoln, Neb., at 1:00 p.m., on Sunday. The Illini will focus on resting up for the quick turnaround, but they hope to continue their success they fought so hard for.

“I think right now this team is playing with a purpose,” Rayfield said. “I think this team collectively is willing itself to win. They’re fighting. They’re not giving up.”

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