Illinois looks to bounce back against Michigan

By Angelle Cortes, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois (4-3-1) is heading back on the road to face off against Michigan (4-2-2) on Thursday in Ann Arbor. 

Last game for the Illini saw them fall to the Buckeyes at home, 2-1. Illinois was first to score, but Ohio State came knocking and scored two goals within a minute and 20 seconds to grab the win. 

Though Illinois lost the game and failed to respond like it did against Nebraska, it was one of the best, if not the best, offensive display this entire season. 

Over the course of the season, Illinois had a three-game stint of an imbalanced team, a really strong defense yet an underperforming offense. 

Things began to turn around against Indiana. Then, the following week against Nebraska and Ohio State, Illinois hit its stride and eventual near peak in its attack. 

“We’ve got to keep doing the things we’re doing well to create chances,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “We were not creating a lot of chances early in the season, but now we’re in a place where we’re creating chances, and now we have to take the next step and really capitalize on the chances we are creating.” 

Kendra Pasquale was a huge contributor during the Illini’s two games last week, scoring two goals in total and grabbing an assist. 

“Kendra has been really effective creating chances for us, and she’s also been a piece of our defensive success,” Rayfield said. “Kendra is one of those players that really does embody that message of excellence that ‘I’m going to give it my best every day, and I’m going to do what I’m expected to do, which is to take on and create chances and to be dangerous.’” 

Against Michigan, Illinois will not only need Pasquale’s attacking mentality, but it also needs Hope Breslin, Makena Silber, Maggie Hillman and whoever else can take chances outside the box as well as get into the box to be dangerous. 

Currently, the Wolverines stand second in the Big Ten in goals at 18, meaning they are scoring an average of 2.25 goals per game. Some top performances from Michigan this season saw them score four goals against Maryland, seven against Michigan State and three against Nebraska. 

“If you look at their results, they’re a dangerous attacking team,” Rayfield said. “They’re goal-scoring ability has been proven especially in the last several games. That’s something we’ll really have to make sure that defensively from top to bottom we’re solid and consistent and play that way for 90 minutes.” 

Out of their nine games played so far, the Wolverines have failed to score in only two of them.

The Illini defense —  plus goalkeeper Sami Sample —  might have some work cut in for them and will have to come out big like they have been all season to prevent some of Michigan’s prolific goal scorers, Sammi Woods and Nicki Hernandez, from getting one in the back of the net. 

“I think we’ve been good with our collective defending, and I think against Michigan we’ll have to be good both collectively and individually … because they’re a good collective and individual attacking team,” Rayfield said. 

To pull out a win against the Wolverines, the Illini will need the last part of the equation when it comes to a goal: finishing. 

“We have to approach that last step, the finishing of chances with the same kind of confidence that we gained on the build-up,” Rayfield said. “We’ve got to be confident in our decision-making and decisions in the box, whether that’s to shoot or pass.” 

The game will start at 1 p.m. central time and can be streamed on Big Ten Network +.

@AngelleCortes

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