Illinois soccer begins hunt for Big Ten redemption with first conference match against Michigan State


Sidney Malone

The Illinois soccer team huddles on the field before the start of their game against Missouri on Sept. 9. The Illini will be home up against Michigan State on Sunday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s that time of year as Illinois prepares for its first Big Ten match of the season. Last year’s conference campaign was not kind to the Illini, who only managed one victory out of 10 total games. Sunday will serve as Illinois’ first chance to right the Big Ten ship in 2022, as it welcomes Michigan State to Demirjian Park.

“When this team plays the way they can play, we can beat anybody,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Certainly, that’s the mindset we have going into conference play. We also know that the Big Ten conference is good, and that’s what’s exciting. I don’t think there’s any game in the conference, no matter who’s playing who, that is going to be a ‘give-me.’”

Illinois concluded its nonconference matches last week with a draw against a competitive Loyola side. Overall, the Illini managed to win five of their eight total games this season. The encouraging start, which included some big victories such as a 1-0 win over No. 17 Butler, has many hopeful as to how the team will fare in the conference matches.

A recent highlight for Illinois has come in the form of its defense. With an extremely capable backline and one of the best shot-stoppers in the Big Ten in the form of junior goalkeeper Julia Cili, the Illini are a well-balanced team in all areas of the pitch. Cili was full of praise for the ability of the backline, which includes players like senior defender Eileen Murphy, sophomore defender Ella Karolak, senior defender Aleah Treiterer and redshirt senior defender Ashley Cathro.

“They’re all such great players,” Cili said. “What makes them so dangerous as a backline is they just work so well as a collective. The reason we have such confidence, them with me and me with them, is because they do their jobs and they do them well. If they mess up a play they’ll stay in it, and the coaches have been doing a really great job of talking to them individually and improving them each day.”

Illinois and Michigan State are no strangers to one another. Sunday’s clash will serve as the 30th meeting between these two programs, with the Illini leading the series by a dominant 23-3-3 record. The Spartans will be coming to Champaign in search of their first win over the Illini since 2002. Michigan State also currently holds five wins so far this season and is coming off a 4-2 upset victory over No. 19 Colorado.

The Big Ten is no longer a prospect looming in the distance. Heading into 2022, all eyes were fixated on how Illinois would rebound in the conference following the disastrous campaign the year prior. The beginning of that answer will be revealed on Sunday.

Illinois will begin Big Ten play on Sunday with a home matchup against Michigan State. The game will kickoff at 1 p.m. at Demirjian Park.



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