Illinois soccer draws level against Loyola for first tie of season

Sophomore+forward+Maeve+Jones+goes+to+steal+the+ball+from+a+Missouri+opponent+on+Friday.+The+Illini+tied+with+Loyola%2C+1-1%2C+on+Sunday.+

Sidney Malone

Sophomore forward Maeve Jones goes to steal the ball from a Missouri opponent on Friday. The Illini tied with Loyola, 1-1, on Sunday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois soccer took on in-state rival Loyola at Demirjian Park on Sunday for its final nonconference match of the 2022 season. The Illini and the Ramblers shared the points after a hard-fought game that could have gone either way.

“We certainly tried to fight,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “I think from an execution standpoint we just weren’t sharp. It wasn’t a day where I think we connected passes in the way that we’re capable. Our execution wasn’t there today but I think our effort was great, especially with going down a goal early, certainly I think the fight we showed was good. Our execution just needs to be better against a good team that comes with a lot of pressure.”

Kickoff in Champaign started off disastrously for Illinois. Not even two minutes in, Loyola found themselves up 1-0, all starting with a poor Illinois turnover in the middle. The Ramblers were able to intercept an Illini pass in the middle of the pitch and thread forward Megan Nemec through on goal. Nemec managed an impressive finish from a tight angle, giving Loyola not only a very early lead but also quick momentum. Loyola 1-0 Illinois.

The Illini managed to shake off the shocking start and nearly equalized immediately after the goal. After getting the ball into the box, junior forward Julia Eichenbaum received the ball and sent the volley just over the goal.

In the seventh minute, senior defender Kendra Pasquale struck a long-range shot just wide of the goal. A minute later, Pasquale received the ball at the top of the Rambler box, dribbled past a defender and hit a low shot just wide right of the target. Already, Illinois began getting back in its groove.

In the 19th minute, the Illini found another chance, again through Pasquale. Redshirt junior forward Ashley Prell created space out wide and sent a great cross into the box, finding Pasquale who struck the ball wide right again from close range.

In the 25th minute, a close-range shot from the Rambler’s Nemec forced a crucial save out of junior goalkeeper Julia Cili. The big stop kept the Illini in the match and prevented the deficit from reaching two heading into halftime.

Coming out of the break, Illinois and Loyola would go back and forth with possession of the ball. A 55th-minute shot from outside the box by freshman forward Sarah Foley kept the Ramblers on their toes, but was saved without much difficulty.

The clock was winding down as was the Illini’s chances of pulling out a result. However, in the 71st minute Illinois found the equalizer.

Sophomore defender Ella Karolak drove down the left wing with the ball and whipped in a dangerous ball. The Ramblers backline managed to deflect it away but only to the feet of sophomore forward Maeve Jones, who composed herself and fired a well-placed shot into the left corner to put the Illini on level terms. The crucial finish from inside the box was Jones’ first goal of the season and helped the Illini avoid a first-ever defeat to the Ramblers. Illinois 1-1 Loyola.

The final stretch of the match saw a few additional chances for both sides but no breakthrough goal. The final whistle blew to conclude the Illini’s first draw in 2022. Final score: Illinois 1, Loyola 1.

“It wasn’t our best (performance),” Jones said following the draw. “But we put up a fight and we were able to tie instead of losing, which is honestly better for the team overall. Heading into the Big Ten it’ll help.”

The Illini will need to continue finding the crucial goals that they weren’t always able to last season. As the team’s starting striker, getting the first goal of the season will only boost Jones’ scoring confidence heading into Big Ten play.

“We really needed to keep our team chemistry and energy up,” Jones said. “Having a goal really helps with that, especially going into the Big Ten and playing Michigan State next week. We get to train this whole week and no game, so with all these days off we really needed that energy.”

Loyola served as Illinois’ final nonconference opponent of the season, with the remaining matches being Big Ten games. After a difficult 2021 conference campaign, the Illini are looking to find the success that was absent last year.

“I believe that we’ll do really well,” Jones said. “I think we have great skills, great players, individual talent and we’ve been working so hard as a team this year.”

Illinois (5-2-1) will be back in action next Sunday for a home showdown against Michigan State (5-1-2). The Spartans are playing well this season and will provide the Illini with a strong opponent to begin Big Ten play.

 

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