Illinois looks to continue winning streak against Iowa
February 25, 2021
The Illini soccer team is set to face off against Iowa on Thursday at Demirjian Park.
Illinois is coming off a 1-0 win in their season opener against Purdue. A late goal in the 81st minute from forward Makena Silber sealed the win for the Illini.
Iowa goes into the match against Illinois with an 0-1 record after losing to Wisconsin last weekend. Badger forward Claire Odmark scored the lone goal early in the first half.
Illinois’ record against Iowa stands at 14-9-1, with the Illini favorites to win. Over the last four years, however, Iowa has defeated Illinois twice, most recently in 2019.
Head coach Janet Rayfield said it feels like a normal Big Ten weekend. Two games in four days will put the team on its toes to be prepared to play, especially with the Sunday game against reigning Big Ten champions Penn State.
“1-0 games in the Big Ten and ties, you’re seeing a competitive Big Ten start to take off, and I think this weekend will be right on par with that, with two really talented teams coming in here to Champaign,” Rayfield said.
The Illini come off a shaky start, attributed to nerves after not playing competitively for a while. They look to regroup and have a solid showing against the Hawkeyes.
While the team is still focusing on themselves these first couple of games, they are still improving upon things from the Purdue game. Some of the biggest things worked on were defending and patience.
“We really worked on our team defending, especially higher up the field, making sure our full 11 is on the same page defending,” Rayfield said. “A lot of it was working on our patience. We got so excited any time we got close to having a chance that we played with not a lot of composure as we’ve been training with.”
After Iowa was handed a tough loss in its first game against Wisconsin, Rayfield can expect them to come to Champaign stronger and with a lot of fight to avoid suffering a second straight loss.
The players to watch for the Hawkeyes this season are defenders Samantha Cary and Sara Wheaton and midfielder Hailey Rydberg.
“I think you’re going to see a dangerous team; they have pace upfront and some craftiness, so I think that’s why we’re going to be really good defensively to keep the clean sheet that we have going,” Rayfield said. “They’re also going to be tough defensively, they don’t give up a lot, they fight hard, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re really going to have to work for that.”
To tear down Iowa’s defense, Rayfield said her team is going to have to move the ball around to find an opening.
The opener against Purdue, Rayfield started an inexperienced defensive back four. Aleah Treiterer, Joanna Verzosa-Dolezal and goalkeeper Sami Sample all earned their first starts for Illinois and played a full 90 minutes.
Ashley Cathro was the only defender who has had starting experience and has a lot of minutes under her belt, but she hasn’t had any Big Ten game experience since 2018 after sitting out the 2019 season due to a knee surgery that happened during the preseason.
Verzosa-Dolezal, the lone freshman starter, stepped up against Purdue and was able to control the backline with confidence.
“I think Jo (Verzosa-Dolezal) is a great communicator on the field, and even as a freshman, she kind of set that tone,” Rayfield said. “She was able to come in and have an understanding and a confidence in an environment that you wouldn’t normally get from a freshman.”
Rayfield says the extra months of training and Friday Night Lights series helped Verzosa-Dolezal gain the playing ability and confidence she needed for the season.
The game will begin at 3 p.m. Central Time and will be streamed live on Big Ten Network +.