Illinois soccer eliminated in first round of Big Ten Tournament

Coach+Janet+Rayfield+talks+with+Allison+Stucky+during+the+game+against+Rutgers+at+Illinois+Soccer+and+Track+Stadium+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+24.+Illinois+won+2-1.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Coach Janet Rayfield talks with Allison Stucky during the game against Rutgers at Illinois Soccer and Track Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 24. Illinois won 2-1.

By Matt Gertsmeier

Jannelle Flaws said the eighth-seeded Illinois soccer team felt like an underdog going into Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament match.

The Illini played like underdogs in the 3-1 loss to first-seeded Penn State, at least in the first half.

Penn State outshot Illinois 15 to 1 in the first 45 minutes of play. All three of the Nittany Lions’ goals came in the first half. Penn State midfielder Nickolette Driesse scored the first goal of the game, which started a ripple effect for the Nittany Lions. The other two goals were scored within 14 minutes of the first.

The Nittany Lions had five corner kicks, and Illinois had one in the first half.

Head coach Janet Rayfield said the wind in the first half made it difficult for Illinois to get the ball out of its own end.

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    “Trying to keep the ball and trying to battle the wind and a good Penn State team sort of wore us down a little bit,” Rayfield said. “And then we didn’t defend individually the way that we needed to keep a good Penn State team off the score board.”

    Illini forward Kara Marbury said at halftime Rayfield stressed the importance of putting pressure on Penn State’s defense.

    The Illini responded in the second half, recording eight shots compared to Penn State’s four. Illinois had five corner kicks in the second half.

    While Illinois amped up the pressure in the second half, it wasn’t able to convert its shots until the 76th minute.

    Moments after a Penn State player stepped on the back of Marbury’s knee, she scored Illinois’ lone goal of the game in the 76th minute in some pain. Marbury was subbed out to check the severity of the injury and was back in the game six minutes later.

    Rayfield said Marbury’s competitive nature propelled her to score while hurt.

    “I don’t know if there is anyone on this team who battles harder, that defends as hard as she does as a forward that goes after things,” Rayfield said. “Getting whacked like that and then battling back to score that goal is one of the ways she shows how competitive she is and how much she wants to win games.”

    But by the time Marbury returned it was too little too late.

    In the final minutes of the game, Illinois tried to achieve an underdog-like comeback but struggled to get shots on frame. Penn State’s goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom recorded three saves, while Illinois goalkeeper Claire Wheatley recorded four saves on seven shots.

    The loss to Penn State eliminated the Illini from the tournament and might have weakened their chances of an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.

    But Rayfield is hopeful, her team has built a resume strong enough for a tournament bid.

    “We’re going to prepare as if we are in, because that is certainly a possibility,” Rayfield said. “We’ll see how things play out.

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    @MattGertsmeier