The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

‘A tale of two halves’: Illinois soccer drops Big Ten home opener in narrow loss to Indiana

Eric Chiang
Junior midfielder Sydney Stephens dribbles past Indiana defenders on Thursday.

The Illini returned to Champaign on Thursday night for their first home conference matchup of 2023. Despite a late resurgence from Illinois offensively, the squad was unable to overcome the deficit, falling to the visitors by a 2-1 defeat.

“A game of two halves for us,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “Disappointed in our performance in the first half, we didn’t really come out with the kind of fight that it takes to win a Big Ten game. You can’t fight for 45 minutes and win a Big Ten game, either.”

The match opened with a defensive battle between the two sides. The Illini made some important stops, but a mistake at the back in the 18th minute allowed the Hoosiers to gain possession close to the net and fire home the opening goal of the night.

The Illini found their response in the 34th minute. Junior midfielder Sydney Stephens beat her marker one-on-one down the right wing before launching a well-placed shot into the far left corner to equalize. Stephens has been on fire for Illinois this season, with her equalizer serving as her fourth goal in nine matches in 2023.

“Stephens just works really hard and creates things by her effort and her desire to win,” Rayfield said. “That shows she picks the ball up and tries to make something happen. She’s been able to do that and got us back into the game and we should rally behind that. She certainly has this incredible inner fight and desire and she’s making things happen because of that.”

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    Despite Stephens’ equalizer, Indiana wasn’t finished, regaining the lead a mere five minutes later. After an initial save by senior goalkeeper Julia Cili, the Hoosiers managed to get to the rebound and clean up in the box from close range. The two sides headed into the break with the Illini trailing by one.

    The second half saw Illinois push higher up the pitch, creating countless opportunities particularly near the end of the match. It was a very different showing than the first half, as the home side were now fully in control, sparking quick, attacking possessions and working to get the ball into the Hoosier box. The Illini came close to leveling the score on numerous occasions, but to the dismay of the fans, an equalizer wasn’t meant to be for Rayfield’s squad as the final whistle was blown at Demirjian Park. Final score: Illinois 1, Indiana 2.

    “I loved our fight in the second half,” Rayfield said. “We created the kind of chances we needed to to put ourselves back in the game, but you can’t put yourself down a couple goals and not fight for balls when a team’s coming into your hometown. Tale of two halves, disappointed in the first one and proud of coming back and fighting in the second one.”

    The Illini will be back at home at 1 p.m. on Sunday as it welcomes the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines to Champaign. It will be a huge test for Rayfield’s team as they hunt for their first Big Ten victory of 2023.



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    About the Contributor
    James Kim, Sports Editor
    My name is James Kim and I’m a senior studying English with a minor in business. This is my third year with The Daily Illini and it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I joined in fall 2021, I began as a staff writer for the sports section where I covered women’s tennis. In spring 2022, I became an assistant sports editor and started covering soccer and Illinois men’s basketball. From spring 2023 onwards I’ve been working as the sports editor! In addition to being an Illini and Real Madrid fanatic, I also love watching movies and TV shows. If you have any questions about writing for The DI, you can reach me at my email below. I-L-L!