Jannelle Flaws powers Illini soccer to Big Ten Tournament

By Matt Gertsmeier

Qualifying for the Big Ten tournament isn’t easy — unless you’re Janet Rayfield. The Illinois soccer head coach is appearing in her sixth straight conference tournament, her 12th overall, after her Illini defeated Minnesota 3-1 on Wednesday night.

On a rainy and snowy night in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Illini secured their postseason fate, scoring three goals in a game for the second time in their last three games. Two of Illinois’ goals came from career-goal scoring leader Jannelle Flaws.

She earned Co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for her performance.

Flaws’ first was off a free kick just outside the penalty box and her second came from a penalty kick. Her goals occurred within seven minutes of each other. Flaws, who has been battling a foot injury this season, felt like she has finally started to get her consistent goal scoring back.

“The last couple games I have been more dangerous than I have been earlier this season,” Flaws said. “When I got those two opportunities I knew I had to put them away because this was a big game for us.”

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    In the 69th minute of play Minnesota scored to cut the deficit to one, but Illini forward Kara Marbury sealed Illinois’ fate with an insurance goal in the 84th minute.

    Before Wednesday, the Gophers were limiting opponents to .61 goals a game and Illinois was only averaging 1.51 goals per game.

    Rayfield believes the magnitude of the game added to Illinois’ goal scoring efforts. If the Illini had lost, their season would have been done.

    “We just kept attacking them,” Rayfield said. “I think we used our bench well tonight and that means that Jannelle doesn’t get quite as much attention and she’s able to do things.”

    Defensively, Illinois limited Minnesota to three corner kicks and 10 shot attempts. Of the attempts, only six were on frame and Illinois goalkeeper Claire Wheatley recorded five saves.

    Rayfield said she thought her defense did a good job of keeping the pressure on Minnesota’s end of the field. The Illini rattled off 13 shots and Minnesota’s goalkeeper made eight saves in Illinois’ crucial win.

    But Illinois’ game with Minnesota wasn’t the only game that decided how the Big Ten postseason shook out

    Ohio State defeated Michigan State 2-0 on Wednesday night. As a result, Ohio State finished the season off with 17 points, good enough for seventh place and the Spartans finished the season in ninth with 14 points. The Illini win slid them into eighth place in the conference with 15 points. As the eight seed, Illinois will face the one seed, Penn State, in the first round of the conference tournament.

    Instead of celebrating her sixth straight conference tournament appearance, Rayfield is already preparing for the Nittany Lions.

    “We’re going to focus on getting rested and recovered,” Rayfield said. “And then do what we can so we can learn as much as we can about Penn State and be ready to play them on Sunday.”

    [email protected]