Illini upperclassmen leading the way for inexperienced squad


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Patricia George (11) carries the ball up the field during the game against Loyola at the Illinois Soccer Stadium on Saturday, April 1. The Illini won 2-1.

By Tatiania Perry, Assistant sports editor

A young team with natural leaders is the best way to characterize Illinois soccer at this stage of the season.

Coming off a successful weekend defeating Evansville in overtime and Miami (Ohio), the team continues with their season motto: “be better than you were the day before.”

Head coach Janet Rayfield said that working with such young team allows for the motto to applied everyday as the team is still learning the pace of the game at the college level.

The team brought in 10 freshmen this offseason, making its fresh start inevitable.

“They are learning and they are eager,” Rayfield said. “(Which) means that they will just continue to get better, we are not trying to repeat any performance.”

With the team being so young, the freshman look to the more seasoned players such as junior Patricia George, a consistent scorer, and senior Kara Marbury.

George said that she prefers to show her leadership in more of reserved way. She would rather have her work ethic speak for her.

While Marbury, who has had time to grow into the role throughout the years, takes a slightly more vocal approach, but also appreciates the lead by example method.

“I think just as a senior it comes naturally to be a leader, you have the most experience, I mean you’ve been on the team for four years,” Marbury said. “That leadership role is just kind of leading by example.”

Goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham was one of the key players in the weekend’s success. In both games the sophomore grabbed three saves, and she kept a clean sheet against the RedHawks.

Filling in the big shoes left by former Illini goalkeeper Claire Wheatley, Cunningham slid into the role nicely.

“As a goalkeeper, it’s not a position where you slowly integrate someone into it. When (the former goalkeeper) is gone, someone has to step in and fill their shoes,” Rayfield said. “That development happens unbeknownst to everybody because you are training every day and taking shots from some of the best players in the country.”

Only playing in a handful of games last season, the Reynoldsburg, Ohio native said she spent plenty of time learning from Wheatley.

“This role becomes bigger the more pressure you put on yourself,” Cunningham said, “So yes I am stepping into some big shoes but they get bigger the more I make them bigger.”

Looking ahead at the Oklahoma State game, the team has watched some film and is working to prepare for their forwards.

In their most recent game the Cowgirls claimed a 6-0 victory over UTSA, the highest scoring game of their season.

The Illini hope to remain consistent in their play against this weekend.

“Playing against Miami of Ohio I think we played the way I was expecting us to play,” Rayfield said. “So going into Oklahoma State I just want to continue that.”

[email protected]