Illinois sticks to game plan, dominates Bowling Green in 5-1 road win

By Angelle Cortes, Assistant Sports Editor

The first game in the Ohio slate for Illinois soccer started off with a whopping 5-1 win over Bowling Green Thursday night. 

“Tonight was one of our better performances in a sense that we really executed the game plan,” said head coach Janet Rayfield. “Our ability to kind of take what Bowling Green gives you and take advantage of that; we did a really good job of that tonight and just competed together, … trusting themselves and trusting each other. ” 

After two rough losses to teams in the Big East, Illinois was looking to turn things around against MAC opposition and, so far, the Illini have done just that. 

This time around, the tempo of the game wasn’t as high-paced, instead full of constant pressure and giving the ball away easily. Illinois was able to control the ball in space and get into tight spaces very quickly. 

Bowling Green’s struggle to press and lock down Illinois resulted in a goal in the 15th minute. 

Sydney Stephens put a cross into the box, and although behind Maeve Jones, she tracked back for it and put a composed shot into goal to take the lead. 

Just a mere 10 minutes later, Stephens found herself with the ball once again just outside the center circle. She sailed it to Makena Silber, who used her explosive speed to hit a one-time shot into the corner of the goal, extending the lead to two goals. 

Illinois wasn’t done just yet in the first half, as recently converted defensive midfielder Joanna Verzosa-Dolezal got her first career goal. 

Kendra Pasquale had two looks on goal, but Bowling Green’s clearance fell to Stephens. She laid it off to Versoza-Dolezal, who took a strong, low shot outside of the box to make it three goals and three Stephens assists going into halftime. 

“What Syd does is just a lot of the work,” Rayfield said. “She finds spaces and does a lot of the dirty work in terms of tracking, winning balls and making runs. She makes really good decisions when she gets the ball; her work rate and ability to find spaces and do good things with the ball showed tonight.

“You know she’s unselfish, and she thinks her role is to find somebody who can score a goal, and she did that pretty well tonight.” 

In the second half, Bowling Green woke up and added some fire to its attack. Off the whistle, the high press missing from the first half was clearly present. Especially with pressure on the Illinois backline, Bowling Green was looking for mistakes to pounce on.  

Two minutes in and the Falcons found the error. A rookie mistake from goalkeeper Naomi Jackson put Kennedy White onto an empty net, but her touch failed her, and Ashley Cathro was able to make the last ditch clearance for a corner. 

Nearly two minutes later, Bowling Green had another attack on goal, with Nikki Cox’s shot saved by Jackson’s chest. 

The Falcons were pushing for at least a goal to gain some momentum to get their name on the scoreline. 

Back-and-forth shots from both teams led to Bowling Green striking first in the second half. 

Former Illini Madi Wolfbauer sent a ball to Lacee Bathea, and she struck the ball into the net, cutting the lead to two goals.   

Illinois once again was not done yet, and it answered Bowling Green’s goal with two of its own in the last 10 minutes of the game. 

Maggie Hillman got a goal of her own as it trickled into the net in the 82nd minute off an assist from Abby Lynch. 

Nearing the final whistle, Lynch was fouled in the box that resulted in a penalty kick. She sent the goalkeeper the other way as the ball sailed into the top left corner to seal the win for Illinois. 

“Offensively and defensively, we executed the game plan, and I think that’s going to bode well for us if we can continue to do that throughout the rest of the season,” Rayfield said. 

Illinois will stay in Ohio to face Bowling Green’s rivals and former Illinois goalkeeper-turned-assistant coach Jaelyn Cunningham’s team, Toledo, on Sunday afternoon.

 

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