Pawloski’s 3 goals over the weekend right the Illini ship

On Sunday morning, Illinois soccer forward Megan Pawloski got word that she would be making her first collegiate start just hours later.

She made the most of it, scoring two goals within six minutes apart as Illinois routed Oregon 5-0.

“Since preseason, she has been working and playing more minutes in every game gaining confidence,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “She is doing something for us where without her on the field we really don’t have someone to stretch the defense as much.”

Rayfield’s decision to start Pawloski might have been influenced by the sophomore’s play Friday, as she contributed to both of Illinois’ goals against Pepperdine, knocking one in the net herself and recording an assist in the 4-2 loss to the Waves. Her performance over the weekend with three goals and an assist awarded her a spot on the LSU Invitational All-Tournament Team.

“It was a good weekend,” Pawloski said. “I think our team, especially Sunday, worked really hard on fighting in both ends of the box, and I think the goals we scored really showed that, I was in the right spot at times.”

The forward was efficient finishing in the box, scoring on every shot she took during the weekend.

“When you’re in the box you really have to focus and that’s when it counts,” she said. “When I’m in the box it’s just a matter of focus and put it back there.”

Sunday’s game was her second two-goal performance with the Illini — she led the Illini to a 2-1 victory last season against Indiana.

Pawloski has been an offensive contributor since arriving at Illinois, and although starting was exciting, she said it wasn’t much of a factor.

“It’s not a huge difference,” Pawloski said. “It’s just in that mentality where you have to get out there and start right away instead of (seeing) how the game takes place and you stepping in and try to change that. You have to start strong.”

Her three-goal weekend propelled her to four on the season, tying her for second on the team. She totaled five goals last season. Pawloski also has the highest shot percentage of Illinois players with more than one shot on goal with .364.

“There’s something in players that make them what we call a natural goal-scorer, and Megan is one of those,” Rayfield said. “Around the goal, she has a knack of finding the way to get the ball past the goalkeeper, and it’s not necessarily a 90-mile-an-hour driven shot, which she can hit, or like the goal she scored against Oregon where she just flicked the ball over the goalkeeper out of the air.”

Pawloski has been able to excel in the Illini’s new offensive attack, as their opponents have struggled to defend the team’s numerous scoring threats.

“Any attacking threat loves to have another attacking threat, because it means there’s a little bit less attention on them.” Rayfield said. “We have really spread the attack out and the threat has come from a lot of places, and I think that makes it really hard to defend anyone of us.”

The Illini have scored 28 goals from nine different players in their first eight games of the season.

“I think the new system really helps and everyone’s scoring goals this year, teams can’t just mark Vanessa (DiBernardo) or they can’t just mark Riss (Marissa Mykines), or anyone,” Pawloski said.

As the Illini begin Big Ten play against Iowa on Friday, Pawloski is confident she and the rest of the offense can continue their powerful offensive attack into conference play.

“We’re going to keep scoring goals, and the teams are going to have to try and stop us,” Pawloski said. “But I don’t think they can.”