Illinois soccer travels to Notre Dame in search of fourth consecutive victory

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Angel Saldivar

Senior forward Summer Garrison walks on the field during the game against Illinois State on Aug. 18. The Illini will be going up against Notre Dame on Sunday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois soccer will be preparing to take on Notre Dame on Sunday in South Bend, Ind., for its fourth match of the season. The Illini are on a hot streak with three straight victories so far, the last being an upset over No. 17 Butler on Thursday.

Notre Dame will be a worthy opponent for Illinois, having narrowly missed out on the top 25 in the most recent NCAA rankings. The Fighting Irish are also 3-0 this season, having defeated Marquette 3-0, Western Michigan 2-0 and St. Louis 2-0. With seven goals scored and zero conceded, the Illini will have to be on their game to leave the state of Indiana 2-0 this week.

Illinois are currently enjoying its best start to a season since 2019 and are doing well to exceed the expectations thus far. The team’s hard-fought wins this year have highlighted how balanced the squad are. When looking at the forwards, the midfield, the backline and the goalkeeper spot, there don’t appear to be any weak areas on the pitch.

To start, the two wingers for Illinois have been playing spectacularly recently. Junior forward Julia Eichenbaum, who found the game-winner last Thursday against No. 17 Butler, has been an offensive threat with fancy footwork and chance creation. The same can be said of redshirt junior forward Ashley Prell, who won the home opener for the Illini against the Redbirds.

The Illini midfield has also been an underrated area of the pitch. A standout player has been sophomore midfielder Ella Karolak, who can be relied on as a physical midfield presence that is capable of winning the ball back and playing key balls in for the forwards. Karolak has one assist in three matches so far, with it coming after a great over-the-top ball to junior forward Makayla Woods, who scored Illinois’ third goal against Toledo.

Illinois’ backline has done well not only in winning the ball back and preventing shots on goal, but also in providing service to the Illini attack. Redshirt senior defender Ashley Cathro has been a consistent example of this. In addition to her defensive abilities, Cathro’s crosses into the box have created countless scoring opportunities for Illinois. She assisted freshman forward Sarah Foley for Foley’s first collegiate goal against Toledo.

Finally, one of the most instrumental parts of Illinois’ game this season has been junior goalkeeper Julia Cili. With nine total saves in three appearances, Cili has played a huge role in the Illini’s undefeated record so far. This is shaping up to be her breakout season after impressing with consistent performances. If opposition forwards make it past Illinois’ backline, Cili has been there to pull off the big stop.

So far, every area of the pitch for the Illini has been on top of its game, and the recent results have been promising. The team will need to continue to play at this consistent level all season to make a run for the Big Ten and beyond.

Illinois (3-0) will take the pitch against Notre Dame (3-0) on Sunday away in South Bend. While this will be another important test for the Illini, the team has the pieces to string together a fourth consecutive victory of the 2022 season.

 

@james_kim15

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