Illini head to Big Ten semifinals

The+Illinois+soccer+team+celebrates+during+its+Big+Ten+quarterfinals+win+over+Wisconsin.+The+team+won+its+first+tournament+game+since+2012+by+going+3-0+in+penalty+kicks.
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Illini head to Big Ten semifinals

The Illinois soccer team celebrates during its Big Ten quarterfinals win over Wisconsin. The team won its first tournament game since 2012 by going 3-0 in penalty kicks.

The Illinois soccer team celebrates during its Big Ten quarterfinals win over Wisconsin. The team won its first tournament game since 2012 by going 3-0 in penalty kicks.

The Illinois soccer team celebrates during its Big Ten quarterfinals win over Wisconsin. The team won its first tournament game since 2012 by going 3-0 in penalty kicks.

The Illinois soccer team celebrates during its Big Ten quarterfinals win over Wisconsin. The team won its first tournament game since 2012 by going 3-0 in penalty kicks.


For the first time since 2012, the Illinois soccer team is headed to the semifinal round of the Big Ten tournament. The team was able to defeat No. 4-seeded Wisconsin in a thrilling fashion. The Illini beat the Badgers 3-0 in penalty kicks after extra time.

After falling behind 2-1 early in the second half, the Illini tied the game when senior midfielder Katie Murray connected with sophomore midfielder Hope Breslin on a free kick cross that sailed just over the Badger goalkeeper’s hands and into the back of the net to knot the match up at 2-2 in the 65th minute.

“We actually have practiced that same play a couple times,” Breslin said. “That free kick was a little far for shot, so we decided it out, and when we ran away from the ball, there was no one on us, so it was an easy one touch in because there was nobody to mark me.”

Aside from Murray and Breslin’s heroics during regulation, it was newly named All-Big Ten second-team junior goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham who stole the show in extra time for the Illini. Cunningham kept a clean sheet in extra time and made three saves in the penalty shootout.

“I was actually pretty excited to go into a shootout,” Cunningham said. “I think the big thing about (penalty kicks) is that they are expected to make it, so it’s important to just be confident and have fun. I feel as if I didn’t play my best the first 120 minutes of the game, so I was happy I got to redeem myself.”

With the win, No. 5-seeded Illinois is set to meet with Big Ten soccer powerhouse and top-seeded Penn State. The two teams will battle it out for the right to play in the Big Ten Tournament Championship and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The team that emerges victorious will play the winner of the other semifinal between Nebraska and Minnesota.

The last time Penn State and Illinois met, the Nittany Lions left Champaign with a 2-1 overtime victory. Illinois jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first half but couldn’t stop Penn State’s late surge.

Coming into the game, Penn State is riding an eight-game winning streak dating all the way back to late September. The Nittany Lions finished conference play with a 9-2 record and have outscored their opponents 37-11 this season.

Despite the recent success of Penn State, senior forward Patricia George and the Illini are excited and ready for the challenge. George appeared in all 19 games for Illinois this season and racked up over 1,600 minutes of playing time.

“Last time we played them, I really think we as team learned that we can play Penn State,” George said. “In past years, I think we have gone into this game on low like, ‘Oh my god, we have to play Penn State,’ but this year, we think and know as a team, we can beat them.”

That mindset is exactly what head coach Janet Rayfield is looking for in her team.

“We’ve talked about mindset and having that whatever-it-takes mentality ever since that  beginning of the season,” Rayfield said. “It’s all about doing your job and doing whatever it takes. Whether it’s making sure the ball stays out of the net or making sure to put that extra effort is what’s going to help us be successful.”

Rayfield knows a thing or two about postseason soccer. In her 17th season with the Illini, this will be her 12th Big Ten tournament appearance to go along with 11 Big Ten tournament wins and 10 NCAA tournament appearances.

“I’m so excited for this team and certainly the juniors and seniors who have really plugged away at it these last couple of years,” Rayfield said. “They were the ones who have really been invested in this team and this program and made this season happen.”

Kickoff is set for Friday at 10 a.m. at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.

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