Illinois soccer completes massive comeback against Maryland to secure first Big Ten victory


Sydney Laput

Sophomore midfielder Sydney Stephens attempts to steal the ball away from Indiana State on Sept. 4. Illinois won against Maryland, 3-2, on Thursday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois soccer secured all three points on Thursday night away against Maryland following one of its most resilient performances of 2022. The Illini now have a win under their belt in conference play and sit in eighth place in the Big Ten standings after two matches played.

“Tonight was about grit and determination,” Head coach Janet Rayfield said. “They found a way to win. The goals came from all different ways: a great strike, a second ball on a restart and a composed finish inside the 18. We added some relentless defending and (Cili) made some great saves. This was a team Big Ten win.”

Coming off a 3-0 defeat to Michigan State to open conference play, Illinois needed a result going into College Park. As the match kicked off, it looked like the Illini were in for a long night as the Terrapins scored a mere 14 seconds into the game. A defensive header from Illinois resulted in a turnover, with Maryland picking up the ball and sending a lobbed ball over to Alyssa Poarch, who managed to beat junior goalkeeper Julia Cili from close range. Illinois 0-1 Maryland. 

The Illini managed to recover from the shocking start and earned two straight corner kicks in the 8th minute, though neither resulted in an equalizer.  

The rest of the first half saw opportunities for both sides in what was an even battle. In the 25th minute, Maryland nearly increased its advantage to two, with Mia Isaac sending a shot just over the crossbar. In the 29th minute, an Illini freekick sent in by sophomore defender Ella Karolak found junior forward Julia Eichenbaum, who nearly managed to redirect it past the Terrapin keeper, but found her attempt saved. 

With the halftime score reading 1-0 to Maryland, Illinois needed a big second-half performance in hostile territory. 

Cili made a crucial stop in the 55th minute after the Terrapins managed to find an open forward on the right wing. The low drive shot tested Cili’s quick reflexes and the junior managed to keep Illinois in the game thanks to a great save. 

In the 57th minute the Illini managed to find the equalizer. After receiving the ball from sophomore forward Maeve Jones, sophomore midfielder Sydney Stephens winded up from well outside the box and struck one of the best goals Illinois has witnessed this season. The rocket of a shot buried itself in the top right corner and left Maryland’s goalkeeper with no chance. Illinois 1-1 Maryland. 

The Illini, now with the wind in their sails, continued to press forward in search of the winning  goal. They would break the deadlock nine minutes later in the 66th minute thanks to Karolak. 

Senior defender Aleah Treiterer had her corner delivery bounce back out to her on the right wing. A top tier delivery into the box was poorly cleared by the Terrapin backline, falling to Karolak. The sophomore hit the volley in stride, redirecting the ball past the keeper to give the Illini their first lead of the night. Illinois 2-1 Maryland.

The goals would continue to come in spades as in the 72nd minute the Illini struck for the third time. Redshirt junior forward Ashley Prell scored her second goal of the season to give Illinois a two-goal cushion over Maryland. A terrible clearance by the Terrapins landed in front of Prell, who drove down the middle before slotting the ball into the bottom left corner. Illinois 3-1 Maryland.

Prell’s goal proved vital as the Terrapins gave the Illini a scare by scoring six minutes later in the 78th minute. Mikayla Dayes managed to dribble two Illinois defenders before firing a powerful shot past Cili from close range. Illinois 3-2 Maryland.

The final 12 minutes of the match were tense, but the Illini held out and claimed victory in their first road match of September. Final score: Illinois 3, Maryland 2.

With the win, the Illini now find themselves with a win and loss in the Big Ten. The performance on Thursday highlighted the tough, competitive side of the team and provided a complete contrast with what fans witnessed in the Michigan State game. Time will tell if this big road win will translate into another top performance by the Illini in their upcoming match against No. 17 Penn State.

Illinois (6-3-1 overall, 1-1 B1G) will travel to University Park on Sunday to go to battle with No. 17 Penn State (6-1-2 overall, 1-0-1 B1G) for the team’s third ranked opponent of the 2022 season.



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