Illini offense looks to shine against Cornhuskers

By Angelle Cortes, Assistant Sports Editor

After three games on the road, the Illinois (3-2-1) soccer team will be back in action at Demirjian Park on Thursday afternoon against Nebraska (1-2-2).

The Illini are heading into the match hungry to get some more goals under their belt. Their previous game against the Hoosiers saw them grab a goal after going scoreless in three games. 

“I think this team has been hungry from the get-go,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “You can tell from the energy from practice yesterday. They’re enjoying playing their sport, and they’re having fun getting out there and certainly want to get out and compete again and score goals. We just want to continue to enjoy playing this sport and continue to get better.” 

Last game against Indiana, Illinois came out on top and won the game 1-0. Sophomore Eileen Murphy’s first goal of the season sealed the win. 

For most of the season, Illinois has shown that their young defense has come out to play in every single game, regardless of a win, loss or tie. 

On the other hand, the offense has had some trouble on the field. The Illini have scored only five goals this season and taken just 46 shots taken. They sit near the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the Big Ten. 

It’s easy to say the offense is not doing what they are supposed to do, which is score goals and win the game, but they have faced some pretty tough competition. Playing Penn State and Wisconsin back-to-back were two difficult games for Illinois, as they are some of the stronger teams in the Big Ten. 

After struggling to get their footing on the field in the last couple of weeks, the Illini are hoping to use the win against the Hoosiers as momentum and a drive to become consistent. 

“We’ve reviewed things defensively,” Rayfield said. “We’ve been really happy with the way our defense has been as a unit collectively from our forwards to our goalkeepers. Then we’ve really been working on our connection in the final third, timing of our runs, where the players want the ball and how can we get them the ball in those places.”     

The Illini offense played better against the Hoosiers than what they have been doing the last couple of games. There were more players pushing up to provide support and more shots were going towards goal. 

Rayfield says Nebraska is a physical and athletic team that won’t let Illinois, or any other team, do something easy against them. 

“They’re going to come with some pressure,” Rayfield said. “They’re going to come hard and really try to not give you much time and space. So, we’re going to have to play quickly and move the ball.” 

Currently throughout all Illinois sports, a lot of teams are finding success. The men’s basketball team won the Big Ten Tournament this past Sunday, men’s golf came in first in the Louisiana Classics and the women’s cross country team earned 21st place in the NCAA Championships. Illinois is looking to piggyback off this success to get another win on Thursday. 

“There’s a real joy within the athletic department right now, joy of athletes getting to compete in their sport,” Rayfield said. “There’s real support amongst the basketball team. You see them genuinely hugging each other and having this positive support of each other. 

“That’s contagious. We all are in a place where we’re looking at that like, ‘hey, that’s a piece of success, being there for each other and with each other and just doing the work.’ I think that mentality is certainly contagious and spreading to all the teams in the Big Ten, and that’s why you’re seeing success across the sports.” 

The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. central time and can be live streamed on Big Ten Network. 

@AngelleCortes

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