Illini soccer hoping to start strong against Ohio State, Penn State

Heading into the second weekend of conference play, Illinois hits the road to play Ohio State (5-3-1) and Penn State (7-3-0).

With a comeback tie last weekend against Iowa after two overtime sessions, the Illini are looking to raise the intensity at the beginning of games.

“I think we need to start the game like we are behind 1-0, almost with the sense of urgency to score,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We started with some good energy, we had some good possession, but not really with this urgency to get to goal and to score goals, and that is our strength. We have to start with our strength right from the beginning of the game.”

After the first half of last weekend’s game, the Orange and Blue were down 2-0. Illinois spent the first half adjusting to inclement weather and Iowa’s smaller field dimensions. Sophomore Vanessa DiBernardo doesn’t want to look at the adjustments as an excuse.

“I think it was just a wake-up call to really work hard from the beginning, not let ourselves get beat, and have to dig ourselves out of a hole,” DiBernardo said. “It’s just a mentality thing, it’s not that we aren’t capable of doing it.”

With Ohio State known for its strong organized defense this season, the Illini have focused on building mental toughness this week in practice.

“We have done a lot of things fitness-wise to help with our mental fitness as well, in terms of finding it in yourself to do whatever it was that you needed to do,” senior Julie Ewing said. “We have done a lot of defensive presence stuff, which is such a mentality. We are such a small team that you have to make yourself big by your mentality. We are a dynamic team, but only if we move off the ball.”

Though they have only tallied 11 goals in the first nine games, Rayfield is bracing the team for a higher scoring output from the Buckeyes.

“We know that we have to be better inside the penalty boxes, we have got to be better in terms of finishing and we have to be better in terms of defending,” Rayfield said. “We really worked a lot on the communication between our goalkeeper and our backs; who’s getting balls that are plighted in and hopefully clear up some things in terms of defending inside our penalty box.”

Ewing remembers last year’s comeback win over Ohio State, in which the Illini put in the game-winning goal in the 84th minute, and looks forward to the rematch.

“I think you always expect a lot out of any team in the Big Ten, and Ohio State obviously made it to the Final Four last year, which is something we hope to attain, so it will be a good competition for us,” Ewing said. “This will hopefully help us take what we have learned from preseason and nonconference games and last week’s game and just bring our best game. Starting this weekend, putting together 90 minutes and imposing ourselves upon them as much as we can.”