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The Daily Illini

Nonconference schedule providing challenge for Illini soccer

Joey Figueroa

Now with three consecutive victories, Illinois (3-1-0) has just one more weekend of games before conference play begins, which means one more weekend of unique challenges and gaining experience as a team.

In only four matches, the Illini have already experienced a variety of situations. They’ve experienced the lows of allowing three straight goals in the season-opening loss to Notre Dame and they’ve experienced the highs of forcing two shutouts, one of which was a dramatic overtime victory on the road this past Sunday.

“You want your nonconference season to challenge your team in a lot of different ways,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We’ve played some really talented competition.”

For a defensive back line that was pieced together with untried parts such as freshman Abby Elinsky, who had only played forward in high school, and sophomore Hope D’Adarrio, who has already eclipsed her total minutes mark from last season, the early experience is even more crucial.

“Every game presents you with different challenges, and the more experience this defense gets at those challenges, the better they’ll be in any and every game,” Rayfield said. “Experience is part of what this back line is seeking and that’s why different teams, different places, and different challenges are really what we’re looking for.”

The back line has responded extremely well to every challenge so far this season, allowing just four goals while also providing three combined goals from Elinksy and junior defender Amy Feher.

Illinois has also been able to use these early nonconference games to straighten out its goalkeeper battle between sophomores Claire Wheatley and Michelle Denley.

Rayfield has enjoyed the opportunity to expose each goalie to different game situations and looks to make a decision on the starter soon.

“Both goalkeepers are playing well and the battle is great,” Rayfield said. “I think this week is really where the battle is going to come to a head, and we’ve got to make some decisions as we come closer and closer to Big Ten season.”

While the defense has improved significantly since last season, the offense has dropped off a bit. Through four games last season, the Illini had already scored 17 goals compared to just seven this season.

Rayfield has mentioned that offensive execution and the team’s decision making could use some fine-tuning, but as long as the goal-scoring opportunities remain at the level they’ve been so far, there’s no need for worry.

“I’m not really concerned about it,” senior forward Jannelle Flaws said. “I think we’re creating a lot of chances and I think we’re also having a little more possession (time). This team is great offensively. We do have a little bit more of a stronger defensive focus at times just because of last season, but we’re still finding a way to win games and even if we’re not winning 5-0 or 4-0, we’re winning 3-1 or 1-0 or something like that.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3.

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