Soccer plays its way into second in Big Ten

The Illinois soccer team played its way into second place in the Big Ten standings with two home victories over the weekend.

Although the Illini (11-4-1, 5-2-1 Big Ten) tallied just two goals, goalkeeper Steph Panozzo and the Illini defense continued with two more strong performances, recording their third and fourth straight shutouts with 1-0 victories over Minnesota (6-8-2, 3-3-2) on Friday and Wisconsin (8-5-3, 3-2-3) on Sunday.

“Every victory in the Big Ten is so important,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “We’re finding a way to get a goal and our defense is obviously keeping us in. Steph had some great saves this weekend, not that she had to make a ton, but she made the ones she needed to make.”

Both games this weekend had a similar feel in which the Illini scored early in the first half and the defense tightened, keeping the ball away from the goal.

Friday’s lone goal came from sophomore midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo for her seventh game-winner of the season. DiBernardo received a pass in the box from Niki Read, who was about 35 yards from the goal. The pass lofted over a Minnesota defender and DiBernardo placed a shot into the lower left side of the net.

“I think that goal probably showed the things (Vanessa) does well,” Rayfield said. “She timed her run well out of the midfield, she brought a ball down out of the air very technically clean, and she’s a great finisher in front of the net. She did all three of those things in order to turn that opportunity into a goal.”

Illinois took the lead against the Badgers on Sunday with a goal from sophomore forward Megan Pawloski in the 24th minute.

DiBernardo passed a ball into the end line, just outside the right corner of the box, to Shayla Mutz, who crossed a low ball to Pawloski, who finished with a sliding kick, placing the ball into the top of the goal.

“Vanessa made a great ball to Shay, and Shay hustled to keep it in,” Pawloski said. “I just gave everything I had to get there and put it in the back.”

Mutz and DiBernardo both recorded assists on the play.

Illinois passed Wisconsin after Friday’s victory to second in the conference. The Illini have won five straight games, and Illinois’ defense has been the anchor, allowing just one goal. Illinois has given up just 38 shots in its last four games, with only 15 being on target. The Orange and Blue recorded 86 shots, with 42 on target in the same amount of time.

“We’re getting the chances, we just have to finish them really,” senior defender Jenna Carosio said. “We (the defense) just have to do our job and get (the offense) back the ball once we lose it … so they can keep on getting those chances, every chance breaks the team down more.”

Panozzo recorded seven saves over the weekend. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia, native has not allowed a goal in 416 minutes over the last five games, while recording 14 saves in those victories.

“Steph had two great games making some huge saves,” Carosio said. “But I think we just fought it out hard as a team, it was a team effort to get the shutout.”

Rayfield said the whole team can be credited for the clean sheets.

“Just our understanding and our defensive organization, not just our backs and our goalkeeper but from our front runners all the way to our goalkeeper, our team defending has been good, and we’re seeing a zero on the opponents scoreboard as a result of that,” Rayfield said.