Illinois soccer to face tough challenge against Michigan State

After two games at home, Illinois will travel to East Lansing, Mich., this Saturday to compete against the Michigan State Spartans.

Earning their first conference wins, the Illini (8-4-1, 2-2-1 Big Ten) defeated both Indiana and Purdue in front of their home crowd last weekend. Sophomore Kassidy Brown thinks the wins were overdue and gave the Orange and Blue the confidence they need during Big Ten competition.

“This weekend showed us that we can win,” Brown said. “We went through a struggle, that time period where there was a drought for us. I think it feels good to finally get those W’s (in) the Big Ten.”

Head coach Janet Rayfield was pleased with her team’s performance last weekend and is hoping to bring more energy to future competitions.

“I think the challenge for us is to be able to maintain the kind of pace that we started the Indiana game with and try to maintain that through a weekend or potentially multiple weekends and multiple games,” Rayfield said.

Illinois has one game scheduled this weekend against Michigan State (10-3-0, 3-2-0), as opposed to its usual two-game weekends. Senior Julie Ewing sees this as an opportunity the Illini should take advantage of.

“I think since it has been a long stretch of a week, we have been working on mentality and fitness-wise making sure that when we do have two-game weekends, there isn’t as big of a dropoff between Friday and Sunday,” Ewing said. “I think on a one-game weekend, we’ve got to be ready to go right from the beginning and use it to our advantage that it is only a one-game weekend.”

The Spartans have scored 30 goals in the first 10 games this season. Junior Olivia Stander has tallied 10 goals, trailing leading-scorer senior Laura Heyboer who has tallied 15 so far. Rayfield is aware that Stander and Heyboer are a threatening pair playing together in the forward positions, and stresses that all positions must attack and defend.

“This is a Michigan State team that has been extremely successful,” Rayfield said. “Even against Iowa they had a lot of shots and a lot of opportunities. It is a really good goal-scoring duo that plays up front and (is) a challenge for us to defend. Our defense will have to be solid.”

Rayfield said it won’t be easy playing against a Big Ten competitor, and wants her team to maintain a strong defense entering this weekend.

“I expect it to be another hard-fought Big Ten game, and it’s an interesting one in that it is the only game of the weekend so both teams can really put their all into playing this game,” Rayfield said. “I think you see both teams do that. It is always tough to go on the road and play in the Big Ten and Michigan State is no different. We have to bring the mobility that we have, the energy that we have and we will have to be defensively solid.”