Illinois soccer signs eight talented recruits in preparation for 2022 regular season


James Hoeck

Illinois Soccer athletes approach the stands after a senior day match against Rutgers on October 23. The Illini soccer team welcomes eight new athletes to the team for the anticipated Fall 2022 season.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

After a turbulent 2021 season, Illinois soccer is taking steps to improve the squad, bringing in eight new players for the fall regular season. The incoming 2022 class consists of talented recruits who have earned numerous achievements during their pre-collegiate careers. Six signings were completed in November 2021, while the most recent two were announced in March. In addition to being an extremely gifted group, this incoming class is very well balanced, with the Illini bringing in players from all areas of the pitch.

“Whether from their high-level club experience or from their successful high school programs, the 2022 class brings a winning mentality,” said head coach Janet Rayfield via press release. “Strong on the attacking side of the ball this class collectively has pace, craftiness, and a relentless goal-scoring mindset. However, it also contains the goalkeeping and defensive competitiveness that leads to shutouts.”

Starting from the back, the Illini will have two additional goalkeepers joining the program this year. Izzy Lee, an Illinois native from Western Springs, played for Lyons Township High School and Eclipse Select. Lee enjoyed a strong 2021 season, earning Second Team All-State honors and becoming a runner-up in the State Final Tournament. She also did concede a single goal during the regular season and went on a 15-game shutout streak during her junior year.

Also joining the program is keeper Jamie Pernecky, who joins the Illini from Pasadena, Calif. Pernecky was a four-year letter winner at Mayfield Senior School and played for Los Angeles Soccer Club for two years. She earned All-League honors in 2021.

Moving up to the backline, Illinois will see Ellen Persson join the defensive ranks. Persson, coming from The Woodlands, Texas, was originally born in Sweden. She played for the Houston Dash Academy and was able to train with Swedish club Kvarnsvedens IK during the summer of 2020. Persson also attended the U.S. U-18 Virtual Camp roster in April 2021. She is the lone defender joining the Illini out of the incoming 2022 class.

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    Following the departure of midfielder Hope Breslin, who was selected by Angel City FC during the 2022 NWSL Draft, the Illini wasted no time in filling out spots. The team will see four midfielders added to the roster for 2022.

    Sarah Foley, a native of Belleville, Ill., played for Belleville West High School and Sporting St. Louis before committing to the Illini. Foley is a player who “was consistently involved in her team scoring goals” according to Rayfield. In addition to becoming a USYS National Champion in 2019, Foley also earned IHSA All-Sectional honors in 2020. At the Midwest Regional Championships, she was the top scorer with six goals to her name. Foley was also a member of the Women’s Premier Soccer League side Fire and Ice, where she bagged four goals on the season.

    Lia Howard will be joining the Illini from Massapequa, N.Y., where she played for Massapequa High School and Susa Academy. Howard was no stranger to achievement at Massapequa, leading her school to two Nassau County Championship Titles and two Long Island Championship Titles. She also holds the Massapequa High School record for most career assists, with 48 to her name, 27 of which came during her senior season. In addition to midfield, Howard also operates as a forward.

    Regan Moody, also a Belleville native, played for Althoff Catholic High School and Fire and Ice Soccer Academy. Moody was a four-year letter winner in soccer and earned a plethora of achievements during her high school career. She was a 2021 IHSA State Champion and set a team record after scoring four goals in the championship final. In fact, it is safe to say that Moody is no stranger to scoring in general, as she scored 33 goals and recorded 16 assists for 82 total points during her junior year. Moody earned Second-Team All-Conference in 2019, Honorable Mention All-Conference in 2021 and All-Metro Girls Second Team honors also in 2021.

    Ashley Stellon, who originates from St. Charles, Ill., played for St. Charles East High School and Sockers FC before committing to the Illini. Stellon, who operates as a box-to-box midfielder, has been praised by Rayfield for the way she “connects players on the field with vision and precision.” In 2019, Stellon became a U.S. Soccer Development Academy U18/19 semi-finalist, and during her junior season, she earned it all, taking home All-State, All-Midwest and All-Sectional Team honors.

    Moving on to the spearhead of the Illini attack, Abby Zugay will be joining the ranks of Illinois soccer as a forward. Aside from Howard, Zugay is the only other forward in the 2022 incoming class, and she hails from Ann Arbor, Mich. Zugay attended Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and played for the Michigan Hawks, who she became three-time Elite Clubs National League Midwest Conference champions with. In 2019, Zugay was ECNL Midwest Player of the Year and attended the ECNL National Training Camp.

    With a well-rounded, talented 2022 class coming in, the Illini are taking the right steps to improve upon the difficult 2021 fall season. Every area of the pitch will be growing in depth, and Rayfield’s recruiting this offseason will only improve the program moving forward. Following strong performances in the 2022 spring exhibition matches, Illinois soccer is making its intent to compete in the Big Ten this regular season clear.

    “In combination,” Rayfield said, “this class will push the Illinois soccer program forward, challenge our returners to raise the bar and be a critical part of the future success of Illinois soccer.”



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